Preliminary hearings will be held Thursday for three men accused of stealing a large amount of copper from AT&T telephone lines.
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 in Letcher District Court Jan. 27. 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. Damron said the 1995 white Chevy S-10 was believed to have been used to transport copper. 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 12. 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.
“It’s very distinct in how the wire looks compared to other copper wire,” said Damron.
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.
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.”
Damron has charge of the Jan. 25 case and Kentucky State Police Trooper Brandon Thomas has charge of other copper theft cases dating back to Dec. 12. Police in Kentucky as well as the Wise County Sheriff ’s Department in Virginia are working together during the copper theft investigation, said Damron.
Police are working with Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison G. Banks II.
“If we can stop the source of where this is being sold, we can stop the theft,” said Banks.