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Alleged copper thieves plead not guilty

Three Blackey men entered not guilty pleas on copper theft charges in Letcher District Court Friday afternoon.

Wade “Troubles” Engle, Curtis R. “Ricky” Halcomb and Cecil J. Slone each pleaded not guilty to one count of theft by unlawful taking and one count of first-degree criminal mischief during arraignment. Letcher District Judge Kevin R. Mullins set preliminary hearings and bond hearings for 2 p.m. on Feb. 2 for all three men.

Lt. Brian Damron of the Letcher County Sheriff’s Department said Engle, 47, of 1044 Carcassonne Road, fled when Damron initiated a traffic stop on Jan. 25. Engle was arrested and charged with receiving stolen property, first-degree wanton endangerment and first-degree fleeing or evading police.

Halcomb, 46, of 36 Mesa Drive and Slone, 31, of 13215 Highway 588 were also arrested Jan. 25.

All three are being held in the Letcher County Jail. Bond is set at $50,000 cash each for Halcomb and Slone. Bond for Engle is set at $60,000 cash.

Damron said copper has been stolen from telephone lines at least 17 times since December. He said the thefts total about $110,000 in losses to AT&T and have occurred in and around Blackey, Kingscreek and Linefork.

“It’s a whole lot of copper,” said Damron.

Police recovered 424 pounds of copper from a scrap metal dealer in Virginia and Damron said police are working with Virginia authorities during the investigation.

Damron said in addition to the inconvenience, the copper thefts created a hazard for telephone customers in need of an ambulance, fire truck or police.

“Without phone lines these people can’t call for help,” said Damron.

Damron said more arrests are pending as the investigation continues.

"Copper theft is a growing problem in Kentucky," said Mary Pat Regan, president, AT&T Kentucky. "Thanks to the leadership of the Kentucky Legislature, the copper theft law has been updated several times and we are committed to work with legislators again in 2012 to strengthen the law to protect Kentucky communities and consumers."


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