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 this morning had not yet been established.
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 who are driving to work, or taking their children to school at that time of day. In addition to the potential danger, the outage causes a great inconvenience to those affected, he added.
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 blackout, 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 of the damage the suspects caused. "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 this morning 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 the Moundsville Police Department at 304-845-1611 or AEP at 888-237-2221.
Meanwhile, a power outage in the Triadelphia area of Ohio County this morning left about 1,800 customers without electricity. That outage included Middle Creek Elementary School as students were arriving for class. As a result, students from Middle Creek were transported 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.
The cause of this morning's outage was not known as press time.