Lights out at City Sports Complex after Copper Theft

Nov. 7--MANSFIELD -- Adult soccer games are being canceled or rescheduled because of a copper theft last week.

Overnight Thursday, thieves stole copper wiring from most light poles at the Mansfield Sports Complex on Holland Road along with wiring from two scoreboards and a breaker box, police said. That has left the complex without electricity until repairs can be made.

Officials are still determining an estimate on repairs but said it will be more than $200,000.

"It's extremely frustrating," said Tim McCann, Mansfield Soccer Association president. "It kind of made me sick to my stomach that these people have no care for their community."

Copper has become a hot target for thieves as its value has risen to an all-time high, officials said. Cities and construction crews have taken extra precautions to curb theft, including finding alternative building materials.

The city-owned sports complex has five lighted soccer fields and six lighted baseball fields. The Mansfield Youth Baseball Association had ended its season Saturday afternoon.

McCann said the theft will affect adult games the most. The majority will be rescheduled for Sunday afternoons. Five or six games and training sessions a week will have to be rescheduled or canceled. Teams are seeking alternative fields.

"At this point, we have more games than we can get in on a Sunday afternoon," the only available time for rescheduling, he said.

Belinda Willis, a city spokeswoman, said that 46 of the 50 light poles at the complex were damaged and that two-thirds of those had wiring taken.

Officials from athletic groups were angered by the theft and said it will likely mean fee increases for the groups and their members. Several athletic groups raised money to install the lighting, said Tony DiGorgio, vice president of operations for the baseball association.Now, they may have to help pay for repairs and extra security measures at the complex, which may result in higher joining fees, DiGorgio said.

"We have put ... quite a bit of money" into the complex, he said. "We need to protect our complex so this doesn't happen again."

Mansfield police spokesman Thad Penkala said thieves are seeking copper in less accessible places, including utility poles.

"It's kind of dangerous cutting into a light pole you think may not have power, but people are showing that they're willing to risk their lives," he said.

In July, authorities said a man in Dallas was electrocuted attempting to steal copper from a utility pole.

Copyright (c) 2006, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.