Hundreds of children and adults in Santee were kept off the field last weekend after a copper thief stole their Friday night lights.
Copper wires were ripped out of the power boxes at the foot of the stadium lights that illuminate the soccer and softball fields at the Santee Sportsplex. Even the scoreboards and time clocks were left non-operable.
The covers of these electrical boxes at the Sportsplex are usually simple to open, but after the latest incident that isn’t the case. In fact, someone trying to get inside without a key will probably need a sledgehammer.
Andrew Musbach's 13-year-old daughter Jayden's soccer game was one of 15 youth and adult soccer or softball games canceled because of darkness last Friday.
"No scoreboards, no timers, no lights. Nothing,” Andrew said. “The kids, they were frustrated. They wanted to play, definitely."
When maintenance crews arrived at the field they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Then they noticed the boxes.
"Just a bunch of wires, leftover wires sticking out looking like a party favor,” Sportsplex General Manager Eddie Vandiver said describing the mess thieves left behind.
"It is extremely frustrating because it is a lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of man hours and a lot of money,” he said.
Police believe sometime between 11 p.m. Thursday and 5 a.m. Friday, the thief cut out copper without disturbing the 480-volt energized wires inside two junction boxes outside the Sportsplex, then climbed the 10-foot fence and did the same to more boxes.
"If you clip the wrong wires at the wrong time you could cause yourself a lot of damage or death,” Vandiver said.
Vandiver says the stolen copper is worth about $200, but the price of repairing the damage to the lights, phones and fiber optics, plus lost revenue, adds up to nearly $8,000.
The San Diego County Sheriff's Department (SDSO) is investigating. Deputies believe the person behind the crime has electrician skills.
The SDSO is also investigating a case of copper wire theft that happened the night before at nearby Santana High School.