MOUNDSVILLE -American Electric Power is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who broke into the substation at First Street and Jefferson Avenue on Tuesday morning, knocking out power to thousands of customers, including schools and businesses.
Nearly 3,000 customers were left in the dark when thieves broke into the substation and tripped a circuit breaker at about 6:15 a.m. Tuesday. The suspects cut the fence that surrounds the substation, broke into the building and cut copper and other metal wires. They then broke into the control house and continued to destroy even more equipment.
"Copper theft is rampant in our area. It happens more frequently than you can imagine," AEP spokeswoman Carmen Pratti-Miller said. "It creates an inconvenience for our customers, a hazard for our employees and the public and it creates a lot of serious ramifications."
She said AEP's first priority was to restore power, and the financial extent of the damage had not yet been established Wednesday.
The power was back on shortly after 8 a.m., but by then, administrators at Moundsville Middle School and McNinch Elementary School had sent students home for the day.
Moundsville Police Chief Tom Mitchell said officers were tasked with directing traffic immediately after the blackout. He noted the amount of people driving to work or taking their children to school at that time of day. In addition to the potential danger, the outage caused a great inconvenience to those affected, he said.
Because outages are often the result of accidents such as vehicles crashing into telephone poles or burning transformers, AEP first looked to the police department to explain the loss of power, Mitchell said. They did not know they were investigating a copper theft until AEP employees got into the substation and discovered the damage.
"They've got a real mess on their hands. It's a really a bad deal," Mitchell said. "Things like this create a really high potential for someone being killed - either the guy who's in there stealing it or one of our electric employees."
Investigators Wednesday were trying to locate anyone who may have seen the suspects and determine if any video surveillance exists from nearby businesses.
Anyone with information about the crime is encouraged to contact Moundsville police at 304-845-1611 or AEP at 888-237-2221.
Meanwhile, a power outage in the Triadelphia and Dallas areas and a section of Elm Grove on Wednesday morning left about 1,800 customers without electricity. That outage included Middle Creek and Sand Hill elementary schools. Students from Middle Creek were taken by school buses to Bridge Street Middle School for classes. The plan called for the elementary school children to be bused back to their school for regular dismissal.
Pratti-Miller said the outage occurred at about 3 a.m. Wednesday and was caused by broken utility pole in the Cedar Rocks area. The Elm Terrace Shopping Center, home to Riesbeck's Food Market, was affected as well. Power was restored to the 400 customers in that area, including the shopping center, by 10:30 a.m., Pratti-Miller said.
The remaining 1,400 customers had power back at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.