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Taking theft to new heights: Copper stolen from 360-foot-tall Duluth tower

Visualize the entire length of a football field, including both end zones. Now turn that field upright into the sky. That's how high at least one gutsy person climbed on a tower behind Arrowhead Tennis and Athletic Center to steal about 900 feet ...

Visualize the entire length of a football field, including both end zones. Now turn that field upright into the sky.

That's how high at least one gutsy person climbed on a tower behind Arrowhead Tennis and Athletic Center to steal about 900 feet of copper wire.

According to a Duluth police report, a suspect or suspects climbed 360 feet to cut the wire and make off with it.

Duluth police Investigator Trudie Thompson said it's believed the thief or thieves had some knowledge of the tower and its equipment. The theft is believed to have occurred within the past two weeks and was reported on Thursday.

Thompson said the replacement value of the wire is about $6,000 installed. The recycled value is about $400, she said.

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"I can't believe that,'' said Tracy Broin, general manager of Arrowhead Tennis and Athletic Center, 4402 Rice Lake Road, where the cell phone tower stands. "It had to happen at night. We do have workmen that go back in that area. It's not unusual to see people up there, but not trying to cut down stuff.''

Duluth Deputy Police Chief Mike Tusken said the theft of copper has been a habitual problem for his department for the past three years.

"We've had copper stolen from construction sites. We've had full spools being stolen from Minnesota Power. We've had it torn out and stripped out of walls of homes,'' Tusken said. "Spools of copper are like gold. If they [thieves] can lift it and get it out, they will. They will knock down fences with trucks to get it out.''

Thieves take the wire, coil it and set it on fire to burn off the insulation, and then sell it to salvage yards.

Tusken remembered a 1996 incident in which a 24-year-old Duluth man was fatally burned trying to tear down wire he thought was dead in Jay Cooke State Park in Carlton County. The man had been under investigation for stealing wire used for telephone communication along the railways. He died when he apparently touched a transmission line, received a shock and fell about 80 feet.

"It's unbelievable that somebody would take that risk of life and limb to get the proceeds of what they can trade off and exchange for cash; I can't even fathom it,'' Tusken said.

Copper thieves also hit the University of Minnesota Duluth this month. Sgt. Sean Huls of the UMD campus police said $48,000 worth of new copper pipe and fittings were stolen from the Chester Park School, 31 W. College St., which is being renovated after being purchased by the university. The materials were stored in a trailer and stolen from Gorham Oien Mechanical of Mora, Minn., some time between April 4 and 7.

Huls said the same site was robbed of $1,500 worth of scrap brass and copper in January.

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"We're working a few leads,'' Huls said. "It's a very active and open investigation at this point.''

MARK STODGHILL covers public safety and courts. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 723-5333 or by e-mail at mstodghill@duluthnews.com .

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