Theft knocks out area's phone service

HOUSTON Their phone service goes in and out as a result. It's happened a number of times in the past year.

While Houston police have a special squad that focuses solely on precious metal thefts, they can't possibly be everywhere all the time. One place thieves have been successful is Acres Homes. They have gone to great lengths there to steal copper cutting phone service in the process.

Melvin Winfrey has a myriad of health problems and he's got the pills to prove it.

"In a run of a day I take about 18 pills," he said.

The 85 year old World War II veteran has emphysema, asthma and kidney problems. His wife Nora, 84, is a diabetic. For them silence is not good.

The Winfrey's phone service has been out for days. In fact, the phones of about a thousand AT&T customers in Acres Homes have all been dead. The remains of a cut cable lead us to the reason why.

"The target is copper, copper had become very expensive worldwide," said Dan Feldstein who is a spokesperson for AT&T.

There was copper inside this cable.

AT&T tells us the cable at this location has been cut and stolen five times in the last year. The latest theft was last week. A repairman told Houston police someone stole 60 feet of it.

And the cables aren't easy to steal. First the crooks have to shimmy up a utility post just to get to them. They weigh hundreds of pounds not to mention the electrical lines that are also up there.

"They're doing something extraordinarily dangerous and they're putting their friends and neighbors at risk," Feldstein said.

Feldstein says phone service is a safety necessity. The cable has now been replaced, but each time he says it takes two to three days to do so. Meantime consumers like the Winfrey's are at risk.

Melvin can only hope he and his wife don't need a phone if or when thieves decide to target the cable again.

"They ought to leave it alone if there's anything I hate is a thief," he said.

The Winfrey's phone service was finally restored. The phone company encourages residents to be vigilant. If you see someone cutting cables, call police. If you know anything about previous thefts, you're urged to call AT&T at 1-800-807-9205. Your information could turn into a $3,000 reward.

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