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WATER VALLEY – The Yalobusha County Sheriff’s Department has made one arrest and other arrests are expected in a multi-agency investigation involving thousands of feet of copper phone cable stolen from utility poles across north Mississippi. The phone cable, located on utility poles several feet below electric lines, primarily provided service to AT&T customers.
Yalobusha County Sheriff Jerimaine Gooch reported that Clint Ware, age 50, of Panola County was arrested on Sept. 20 after he was linked to the theft of several hundred feet of stolen phone cable from utility poles located just north of the Yocona River on Hwy 51. Gooch said the same area had been targeted multiple times in recent months, adding there is no traffic along this stretch of Hwy. 51 due to the river bridge closure.
The sheriff said a suspected ring of thieves have been bold, cutting thousands of feet of copper phone cables in Yalobusha, Panola, Quitman, Lafayette, Coahoma and other counties in a crime spree that started in April. Other areas targeted in Yalobusha County included utility lines located north of Oakland and on Hwy. 32, just outside of Water Valley.
Ware has only been charged with one incident that occurred on Sept. 13, but Gooch said authorities from multiple counties continue to track down leads as at least eight people are believed to be connected with cutting the phone cables and others have assisted in selling the copper wire. The sheriff noted that one person involved with the theft ring is believed to have sold 1,700 pounds of copper from April through August. The scrap value of the stolen copper is around $8 per pound.
Sheriff Gooch explained that the area north of Yocona River had been targeted multiple times, and motion-activated trail camera were installed in the vicinity to aid with the investigation. Evidence in the Sept. 13 case includes photos of the suspect from the trail cameras at the same time service was disrupted due to the severed phone cables. Sheriff Gooch also said Ware was linked to a burn site in a farmer’s field in southern Panola County later that day.
“Our suspect was spotted allegedly burning the stolen phone cable to get the copper from it. We were able to link the remnants of cable in the farmer’s field to the portion of phone cable that was stolen on Hwy. 51 near the river bridge on Sept. 13,” he added.
Chief Deputy Thomas West reported that it took authorities almost a week to apprehend Ware after the theft.
“We went to several locations in Quitman County and Panola County, but were not successful,” West said. “The U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force was also involved in the search.”
Ware was finally arrested after deputies determined that he was staying at a house in Grenada County on Hwy. 51, just south of the Yalobusha-Grenada County line.
“Deputies set up surveillance on the house and observed someone picking him up,” West said. “We trailed the vehicle to a store on Hwy. 51 in Tillatoba and arrested him when he came out of the store. He had been laying low and was very surprised to see us.”
Ware remains in custody in the Yalobusha County Detention Center. Bond was set at $15,000.
Gooch reported the cable thefts were primarily causing phone outages for AT&T customers who have land lines and the work to replace the severed lines across north Mississippi cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Some of our older residents in the county do not have cell phones and depend on land lines,” he added.
Gooch said the thefts ranged from several hundred feet of cable to almost 1,000 feet.
“In some cases they cut the cable from utility pole to utility pole. Other times it was a longer, spanning multiple utility poles,” the sheriff explained.
Other activity reported by the sheriff includes:
• Grady McCullar of Lafayette County was arrested on Sept. 25 on a warrant for trespassing. McCullar was arrested at a convenience store on Hwy. 315 in Water Valley.
• Tiffany Brown was arrested on warrant for the sell of crack cocaine on Sept. 13. The arrest was made in Water Valley at the Rolling Hills Apartment.
• Shelby Stricklin was arrested on Sept. 12 at his residence near Water Valley for domestic aggravated assault and resisting arrest.
• Al Zackery Cole was arrested on Sept. 11 in Tillatoba for domestic aggravated assault.
• Tony Brooks was arrested for aggravated domestic assault and obstruction of emergency assistance on Sept. 5. The arrest was made at Ajinomoto Foods in Oakland after a dispute that spilled out into the parking lot.
• Cody Britt was arrested on August 27 on a warrant for taking a motor vehicle in Coffeeville.