Police: Gang hit up to 20 cell tower sites, put lives in danger

July 1, 2009 3:42:08 PM PDT
Three people have been charged with stealing copper from a cell phone tower in Delaware County, and police say they may have hit anywhere from five to 20 more.They are accused of scaling the tower located on Eddystone Avenue in Eddystone.

Under arrest are Kimberly Dougherty, Kevin Steward and Shane Whitaker. They were allegedly caught in the act on Tuesday.

Police think the three were targeting the grounding wire in the towers, an act that could have put numerous lives in jeopardy.

That's because, if a tower would be hit by lightning, it could have knocked out both 911 service and cell phone service.

The tower in Eddystone served the county 911 system and four commercial operations. That one tower covers a 9 square mile area. It is the only emergency communications link for the city of Chester.

Authorities are now getting word out to jurisdictions across the area, telling them to check their cell phone towers for signs of possible theft.

Investigators say the group may also have hit cell towers in southern New Jersey.

Police say Whitaker was trained in cell tower construction and knew how to get the wires without interrupting service.

The thefts may never have come to light without the alert actions of this man.

Wayne Hunley lives near the cell tower and noticed a rental truck at the site.

He questioned the driver who claimed he was there to perform maintenance.

"When I told him I was going to get his tag number, he took off. Then, I chased him," Hunley said.

When the police caught up, they arrested Whitaker along with Steward and Dougherty. All three are from South Jersey.

They're each being held on $150,000 bail as the investigation continues.

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