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Theft of Copper Wire Now Tied To A Family Tragedy

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(Photo Credit: Jonathan Morrow) Thelma Morrow, 52, was struck and later died while trying to cross a dark Liberty City road on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011.

(Photo Credit: Jonathan Morrow) Thelma Morrow, 52, was struck and later died while trying to cross a dark Liberty City road on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011.

Peter-D'oench-600x450 Peter D'Oench
Peter D'Oench is a reporter for CBS4 News. He came to CBS4 from ...
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South Florida Crime

MIAMI (CBS4) – A 52-year-old Miami grandmother has lost her struggle to survive just weeks after she was struck by a car and her loved ones say this death could have been prevented had the county moved faster to repair street lights that were disabled by copper wire thieves.

Thelma Morrow died last Saturday from her severe injuries after being struck by a car on the night of September 7th as she was crossing Northwest 7th Avenue at 59th Street. At the time, Miami Fire Rescue blamed copper wire thieves for disabling the street lights. The accident was so severe that Morrow was thrown through the front windshield of the Toyota Corolla that hit her.

The driver, Kinston Dugazon, of Northeast Miami-Dade, told police that he couldn’t see her. Morrow was wearing dark colors and it was wet and dark. Police at the time said he was not speeding and they did not expect to charge him.

Morrow’s daughter, Latoya Florence, told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, “I’m very upset because, behind this, I lost my Mom. If the lights were out that long, they should have made sure the lights were fixed.”

She said Miami-Dade Public Works, which is responsible for maintaining the street lights on Northwest 7th Avenue, was warned for a month that the street lights were not working over a more than 40-block stretch of Northwest 7th Avenue.

“They knew the lights were out and they could have done something,” said Kanishwa Supre, the granddaughter of Morrow. “I mean, the next day after she is hit they do something and they fix it and that’s not right.”

The lights at Northwest 59th street were fixed on September 8th. The Public Works Department says all of the lights in the more than 40-block stretch were fixed by September 9th, two days after the accident. A spokesman said he was not sure why there were delays in fixing the lights but he said the Department was actually not informed of the problem until August 16th.

The spokesman said in August alone, thieves stole copper wire from 167 lights. Preventive measures, like vandal proof bolts, locks and bulletproof lids, have not worked.

A County task force that was proposed by Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson should be set up by next month. The proposal goes before the Commission for a 2nd and final reading on October 4th.

“We will have a number of agencies working together and brainstorming on this important issue,” Edmonson told D’Oench. “We want to target the dealers who purchase this copper wire.”

The county says the theft of copper wire leads to power outages and can cost thousands of dollars to fix.

Everett Foster, who was a close friend of Morrow and who lived next to her apartment in Miami, told D’Oench, “It’s a shame this happened to my neighbor. Those lights have been out for a long time. It’s about time that they are setting up a task force. It should have been done a long time ago.”

Latyoya Florence told D’Oench, “I pray they do set up that task force. I really pray that they do. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I’m going through right now. It’s hard. It’s really hard. She was giving us hope that she might pull through but her body suffered so much trauma that she really couldn’t hold on.”

Florence told D’Oench that it was too early to talk about a possible lawsuit because of the delay in fixing the street lights. She said her first priority is dealing with her mother’s death and raising the money needed to bury her.

She said that anyone wanting to contribute to her mother’s burial expenses could go to any Wells Fargo branch and ask to deposit money in to the Thelma Morrow Memorial Fund. The money will go only towards those burial expenses.

Copper wire has been stolen from lights all over South Florida.

In the last 4 to 6 months, thieves have stolen copper wire from 100 lights in Palm Beach County, leaving drivers in the dark for 33 miles.

In all, they took more than 175 thousand feet of copper wiring. In West Palm Beach, the problem is so bad that crews are installing anti-theft devices on light poles.

In the last year alone in Miami-Dade, 30 lights on the stretch of I-95 between NW 30th and 79th streets have been vandalized for copper wire. And taxpayers have had to pay to fix the lights at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Florida Highway Patrol is also asking for your help. If you see a driver stopped near a light pole on I-95, give them a call right away so they can check that out.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling has set up a website where law enforcement authorities in the United States and Canada can report thefts. The information is relayed to recycling plants within 100 miles of the incident.

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