Two recent alleged copper wire theft cases in St. Paul were interrupted by a bicyclist who called 911 and police who spotted a vehicle in a park closed for the night, according to charges filed against five people.
The recent arrests are reminders of the importance of people calling 911 if they see suspicious activity, police said.
“If you see suspicious activity, especially around power poles or streetlights, where we’ve seen a high volume of theft, we want people to call us,” said Sgt. Mike Ernster, a St. Paul police spokesman. “Any little tip helps.”
The department shared that message Monday on Facebook and plans to hand out “See something, say something” flyers at community meetings. Here’s that Facebook post:
Streetlight repair due to wire theft cost St. Paul Public Works $777,000 as of November, more than seven times the amount for all of 2020.
A 64-year-old pedestrian died in St. Paul’s North End on Christmas Eve, an area his widow said she’d called the city about being “pitch black.” A contractor had installed a new streetlight at the intersection on Dec. 15, but they hadn’t been able to connect it because of copper wire theft, according to the Public Works director.
The newest theft-related cases, in which the Ramsey County attorney’s office charged five people with aiding and abetting first-degree criminal damage to property and possession of burglary or theft tools, come on the heels of eight other people being charged this month in Ramsey and Washington counties.
100 pounds of wire
On Thursday about 11:40 p.m., police saw a vehicle parked at Mississippi River Boulevard and Summit Avenue; the park closed at 11 p.m.
“Police investigated the vehicle given an increase in streetlamp wire thefts in the area involving multiple suspects with lookouts stationed in vehicles in nearby parking lots,” the criminal complaint said.
Police determined the minivan had been involved in a wire theft incident in September.
On Thursday, a man was in the passenger seat, and another man and woman in the back. An officer saw a crowbar near the center console, tin foil with what appeared to be dark residue and tools “consistent with wire theft” on the floor, according to the complaint.
Three streetlights with wires hanging out of them were near the parking lot, and none of the lights in the lot were working. Police found about 30 nonfunctioning streetlights with covers open and wires exposed or hanging out in the area of Summit Avenue and Mississippi River Boulevard.
An officer saw more than 100 pounds of rolled-up wire in the back of the van, the complaint said.
Police found August Htoo, a 32-year-old passenger from St. Paul, had a wire cutter, wrenches, a roll of electrical tape and screw bit, according to the complaint. Another passenger, 36-year-old Nay Thar, of St. Paul, had a drill bit in his pocket, the complaint said.
Passenger Chastity Lynn Morris, 30, of Minneapolis, told police she fell asleep in the rear of the van and woke up when they were parked in the lot. She said she wasn’t familiar with metal scrapping for money.
Stroller with tools inside
A man called 911 about 3:30 a.m. Saturday to report two men appeared to be stealing copper wiring from street lights and they were walking north on the Wabasha Street bridge.
Police responded and found two men walking north on the bridge and identified them as Kee Kue, 45, of St. Paul, and Tou Hue Lee, 29, who doesn’t have a permanent address.
On the bridge’s south end, where the men had been walking from, officers found access panels missing from almost all the street poles. Many were on the ground nearby. Most of the wiring had been cut, with some copper exposed and other wiring missing. Wire cutters and screwdrivers were on the ground.
“A trail of cut wires led down nearby stairs to two bicycles,” the complaint said. “Next to one of the bikes were a roll of cut wiring with a copper center; attached to the other bike was a stroller containing screwdrivers and other small tools.”
Officers found a metal multi-tool and pair of gloves along the path from the bridge’s south end to where they were stopped.
A man who’d been walking his bicycle across the bridge, and who called 911, identified Kue and Lee as the people he saw tampering with street light poles.
Lee told police he didn’t try to steal wiring and said he didn’t know why he’d been stopped. Kue declined to talk to police.