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Two charged in high-risk copper thefts

A Prince George's County grand jury on Tuesday indicted two District men on charges they stole more than $19,000 worth of copper wire from Amtrak.

The indictments were announced by State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey during a press conference outside the Amtrak station in New Carrollton.

Authorities said the thefts occurred between November 2009 and this March.

George Bridgewater Jr., 50, and Ray H. Walker, also 50, were each indicted on four separate charges. The two were charged with theft over $10,000, aggregate theft over $1,000, conspiracy to commit theft over $10,000, and conspiracy to commit theft over $1,000.

Bridgewater is out on bond. Authorities would be seeking an arrest warrant for Walker, Ivey said.

Investigators believe Bridgewater shimmied to the top of 75-foot towers that run along Amtrak tracks and used a hacksaw to cut seven-strand copper wiring that is used to absorb lightning and prevent lightning strikes on the tracks, officials said.

The thefts of the wiring did not disrupt Amtrak service or put any passengers in danger, officials said.

"The real risk was to Bridgewater himself," said Sgt. Ron Bason of the Amtrak police. Investigators believe Bridgewater did most or all of the climbing and cutting, while Walker helped gather the copper and assisted in selling it to scrap yards.

In January, Walker sold more than 500 pounds of Amtrak wire to a scrap company in Capitol Heights, according to police charging documents. Walker provided an identification card -- a D.C. driver's license -- each time he sold the wire to the scrap yard, according to the charging documents.

On Feb. 5, Bridgewater was seen by an Amtrak worker on Amtrak property near Route 50 and Columbia Park Road in the Landover area, according to police cahrging documents.

The workers saw Bridgewater -- who was wearing a hard hat -- spooling up copper wire that had been cut from high-tension poles along the tracks, the charging document states. When the Amtrak worker asked Bridgewater what he was doing, Bridgewater threw the wire down and ran away, the charging document alleges.

The worker later picked Bridgewater from a photo array, Bason said.

A manager of a scrap yard in Clinton said scrap operators pay up to $2.50 per pound for copper. The manager declined to be identified by name because the owner of the place he works had not authorized him to be interviewed.

Authorities have said thefts of copper increase when the price of copper goes up. In recent years, the price of copper has gone up, thanks to worldwide demand for the metal for use in construction and electronics.

In recent years in the Washington area, thieves dug up hundreds of feet of underground copper cable used to illuminate ball fiends in Anne Arundel County.

-- Ruben Castaneda

By Ruben Castaneda  |  July 13, 2010; 4:30 PM ET
Categories:  Pr. George's , Ruben Castaneda  
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"$2.50 cents"

$2.50 or 2.50 cents?

Posted by: MStreet1 | July 13, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

"ball fiends"? It was obviously a good story or we wouldn't be nit-picking it. :)

Posted by: JoyceD | July 14, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

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