News and Press Releases

Defendants Sentenced for Stealing Copper Wire from the Railroad Tracks in Northern Nevada

August 25, 2010

Reno, Nev. – Two men who stole approximately 750 pounds of copper wire from the railroad tracks near West Wendover, Nevada, causing almost $50,000 in damage, have been sentenced to federal prison, announced Daniel G. Bogden, United States Attorney for the District of Nevada.

Delbert Wayne Penny, 34, of Ogden, Utah, was sentenced to 30 months in prison, and two years of supervised release, and Edward Val Stearns, 53, of Lake Point, Utah, was sentenced to 16 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Both were sentenced on Monday, August 23, 2010, in Reno by U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones. A third defendant, Sherri Christene Andrews, 33, of Evanston, Wyoming, was sentenced in July to four years of probation.

All three were also ordered to pay $48,095 in restitution to the Union Pacific Railroad. They each pleaded guilty to damaging and impairing a railroad signal system.

According to the court records, on July 22, 2008, Penny, Stearns, and Andrews drove from Utah to an area west of West Wendover, Nevada, in a red 2001 Chevrolet pickup that was pulling a cargo trailer with two four wheelers inside. Penny and Stearns went to some nearby railroad tracks used by the Union Pacific and Amtrak railroad companies, while Andrews remained at the truck to act as a lookout. Penny and Stearns cut down approximately 750 pounds of copper wire from the railroad signal and control systems that was strung between telephone poles running along the railroad tracks. Penny and Stearns returned to the truck, and all three defendants stripped the insulation from the copper wire, rolled it up, and placed it in the cargo trailer. As they were finishing up, a Union Pacific line crew that had been dispatched to the area saw them and shined a light on the truck. Penny, Stearns, and Andrews fled in the truck at a high rate of speed and were pursued by the line crew. During the pursuit, the line crew called the Elko County Sheriff's Office (ECSO) to report the theft and that they were currently pursuing the pickup truck towards Interstate 80. A West Wendover Police Officer stopped the truck on Interstate 80 near mile marker 407.

ECSO deputies later obtained and executed a search warrant for the truck and trailer and recovered the stolen copper wire, walkie talkies, a GPS hand held device, wire cutting pliers, and a pole tree trimmer with an extender.

The theft of the copper wire completely disabled the Union Pacific's detection system, and broken rails or landslides within a 40 mile section of track would have been undetected by control operators, thus presenting a serious hazard. The theft caused significant train delays, forcing two Amtrak passenger trains and at least one freight train to stop at every control point and travel at no more than 20 miles per hour. It also rendered traffic signals inoperable which jeopardized both motorists and train occupants. The Union Pacific Railroad spent approximately $48,0000 to repair the damage caused by the defendants.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI and Elko County Sheriff's Office, and the case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Brian L. Sullivan.

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