Sunday, February 10, 2013

Subway Copper Bandit Struck 3 Times Last Week

It is not as prevalent as in the 1980s, but there are thieves bold enough or dumb enough to risk dying like a fly in a bug zapper to make a few bucks. They steal copper cable from live tracks and sell the metal at scrap yards. The copper bandit plies his dangerous trade in tunnels beneath the city. During gaps between trains, he cuts and removes sections of copper cable for quick cash. It is not attacking old people with a brick, but stranded riders will say it is not stealing quarters from a pay phone, either. On at least three occasions last week, Prince Hayes cut live cables from subway tunnels. And once he strikes, with a hacksaw and pliers, there is instant trouble. 

Trains racing to the next station have their emergency brakes tripped by the damage, bringing them to a sudden halt. There are lengthy delays and costly repairs.

Monday 2/4/13: Missing sections of cable - some up to 200 feet in length - were discovered in two locations along the L in Brooklyn, near the East 105th St. station, after trains lost power or had emergency brakes activated.

The problems started in the morning, and service was not fully restored until the evening. Meanwhile, trains skipped several stations on the line because they were diverted to express or alternate tracks while repairs were being made.

Wednesday 2/6/13: The L line in Brooklyn was hit for the second time during the week, as a bandit, most likely seeking money for drugs, lifted a 150-foot section of cable near the New Lots Avenue station. It was discovered missing when a train’s emergency brakes were tripped amid the start of the morning rush. More thievery - more straphanger pain.

On at least one occasion, Hayes caused a small explosion that sent billowing smoke into the nearest station. Another time, his handiwork forced dispatchers to suspend service on one line and reroute trains on three others.

That the daring copper thief has not been killed yet is a testament to his luck or skill or maybe a bit of both. The thick, heavy cable he removes is part of the power distribution circuits that handle 600 volts of electricity. If he picked the wrong section of cable, he would fry like a bug under a magnifying glass.

If there is a positive recurring theme in this Portrait of a Subway Criminal, it is this: NYPD Transit Bureau detectives regularly arrest Hayes and put him out of commission, at least temporarily.

Since July 2005, Hayes has been charged six times with copper theft crimes - and that is just in Brooklyn, according to court records. Since 2000, he has had eight drug possession charges, mostly for heroin.

Riders on the N line in Brooklyn experienced the effects of Hayes' handiwork on Sept. 13. The emergency brakes on several trains were activated near the 36th St. station. A worker searching for the cause discovered some 500 feet of cable was missing. A police investigation led to Hayes. According to a criminal complaint filed by detectives, Hayes sold the copper wire stamped NYCTA to a scrap yard near the Gowanus Canal two days after the breakdowns.

"They got me again," he reportedly told officers at Brooklyn Central Booking. Hayes copped a plea deal offered by a Brooklyn Criminal Court judge, and took a 90-day sentence to settle three open cases. Prince Hayes told the judge that, "this is the last time." However, the Assistant District Attorney assigned to the case said that, "he didn't sound too sincere."

Once again, Mr. Hayes is cooling his heels in a Rikers Island jail cell - probably best for him and subway riders.