HUDSON — Pasco deputies are seeking two men suspected of stealing copper wire from two Withlachoochee River Electric Cooperative substations.
Deputies say they already have the getaway driver involved in at least one of the thefts, on Aug. 4. Marylynn Maldonado, 23, was charged with criminal mischief, grand theft and dealing in stolen property because she allegedly drove Joshua Lee Petty and Donald Rebston to the substation at 17029 East Road, near the Hernando County line.
The men stole about 200 feet of copper wire, valued at about $1,196, deputies said. The theft caused thousands in damage and will directly affect co-op members' electric bills, said Withlacoochee spokesman David Lambert.
Authorities believe the trio also hit another WREC substation at 16540 Old Dixie Highway on Aug. 16, stealing a large spool of wire worth about $800 and causing thousands of dollars in additional damage.
Lambert said the East Road substation had been hit by thieves last August. They stole copper ground wire, which protected the plant against lightning. It was subsequently struck by a bolt that caused thousand of dollars in damage.
Copper thefts are common, though people don't understand how dangerous it is, Lambert said. People have been electrocuted and severely injured trying to steal copper.
Eight months ago, Withlacoochee invested in a security system to thwart future thefts.
"We installed in all of our substations' sensitive equipment to identify thefts, and many of them have cameras that take infrared pictures … of folks who break into the stations," Lambert said.
Maldonado was arrested Thursday on Lancer Road in Spring Hill and taken to Land O'Lakes jail. She was still there Friday in lieu of $14,000 bail.
In March 2004, Joshua Petty, then 18, and another man were arrested after they fought a McDonald's employee in the restaurant's parking lot. Authorities think the fight erupted after the suspects used a racial epithet.
They both pleaded guilty. Petty was charged with prejudice while committing simple battery.