The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


October 6, 2010


— Last Friday’s arrest on first degree murder charges of a man and woman in conjunction with the death of a second man believed to have been involved in stealing copper at the time of the accident that took his life is intended to send a message to other would-be thieves.

Stealing, or attempting to steal, copper from power company property is a dangerous game, one for which law enforcement is using every weapon in its arsenal to curtail. Authorities hope that this latest weapon drawn will serve as a strong deterrent to the crime that is once again on the upswing as prices for metals increase.

Police say Toby Lee Harrah entered an Appalachian Power Co. substation at Pemberton Sept. 16 and was apparently electrocuted after stripping copper from the equipment there. Officials said he was found on his knees behind the locked gate, surrounded by copper. He received third degree burns on his upper body and later died at a Huntington burn center.

Police now say Bernard Joseph Garrison helped Harrah break into the substation while Jennifer Garrison waited in the car. Raleigh County Prosecutor Kristen Keller said the two were charged with murder because state law says if anyone chooses to engage in an inherently dangerous felony, that person can be held accountable for any death that occurs, even if the death is accidental.

Whether the Garrisons are found guilty is a matter for the courts to decide. But we agree with police and Keller in filing the charges.

Copper theft is a growing problem and Harrah isn’t the first person to die or be injured in attempting it. APCO spokesman Phil Moye said three other deaths have been reported just this year and hundreds of other people have been seriously burned or injured.

More than 100 miles of copper from distribution lines have been stolen, costing the company thousands of dollars and inconveniencing hundreds of residents who lose power when the theft shuts the system down.

It is said that you can’t legislate common sense. But if would-be thieves cannot understand that they risk their own deaths or that of any accomplices, perhaps the possibility of a long imprisonment for murder, instead of a few years for theft, will get their attention.”

As Keller told The Register-Herald, “We do hope that if killing themselves doesn’t deter people from attempting copper theft, then perhaps having the knowledge that they can be charged with first degree murder if one of their associates are killed might help persuade people from committing the crime.”

Copper theft is a serious problem and one of the most dangerous things a person can attempt. Using this extreme measure is, we hope, a step forward in stopping it.

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