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Stolen $15 copper wire nets a costly loss

Habitat volunteer Gene Wehr cuts remaining wires the morning after the wire was stolen. The house must now be rewired.

MICHAEL SANSERINO | Times

Habitat volunteer Gene Wehr cuts remaining wires the morning after the wire was stolen. The house must now be rewired.

BROOKSVILLE — A $15 copper-wire heist will cost Habitat for Humanity $1,500 and an extra week or two of work, leaving a woman and her 18-year-old daughter waiting to move into their new home.

Christine Rideout, 45, got a call Wednesday morning informing her that her house, being built by Habitat for Humanity in the 16000 block of Boca Raton Street, had been burglarized.

Rideout and her daughter, Alexandra, have been on Habitat's waiting list for three years and will now have to wait until August or September to move from their apartment to the home. They were hoping to move in by July.

"We were so close," Alexandra said.

Sometime between 11 a.m. Tuesday and 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, an unspecified number of intruders broke the back window of the one-story house and cut wiring from the electrical box, said Alex Quintard, construction supervisor for Habitat for Humanity of Hernando County.

Quintard said whoever stole the wire didn't know what they were doing. The thief, or thieves, left the most valuable sections of the copper wiring intact, stealing just $15 worth of the increasingly valuable metal, he said. But because of where the wires were cut, Habitat volunteers must rewire the entire house.

Christine and Alexandra had hoped to find a home in Florida a few years ago when they escaped the cold winters of western New York State. But a spike in home prices changed those plans.

Instead, the two have been renting an apartment in Spring Hill, though Christine said the rent is too expensive. She works from home for two separate business and will pay a mortgage on the new house.

"The longer we take, the longer they struggle to live where they are," Quintard said.

He said he hopes donations to the Christian-based organization will help offset the cost of the rewiring. Thrivent Financial for Lutherans paid for 75 percent of the home, and Habitat the remaining 25 percent. Quintard said Habitat would use its own funds to pay for the wire.

Hernando sheriff's deputies investigated Wednesday morning, but found little information that could help them determine who stole the wire, said spokeswoman Sgt. Donna Black.

Hernando Builders Association president Dudley Hampton Jr., said copper wire theft is "the number-one theft on our job sites, what little job sites there are out there."

Someone even stole copper wire from the association's air conditioner, though that thief was eventually caught, he said.

Hampton thinks the surge in copper prices and high unemployment have caused the spike in copper thefts.

"That doesn't make it right by any means," he said.

Some builders have installed motion-activated cameras on their work sites to deter thieves.

Hampton also thinks metal recyclers could help by refusing to buy any copper wire they believe is stolen.

Michael Sanserino can be reached at msanserino@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1430.

Stolen $15 copper wire nets a costly loss 06/25/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 27, 2008 6:57pm]

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