Walker County law enforcement officers called off a search late Wednesday night for two men who were caught cutting and attempting to steal telephone cable at the Harmon Creek bridge on state Highway 19.

Sheriff Clint McRae said they received confirmation late Wednesday night that a large number of residents in the Acorn Hill and Sterling Chapel Road area were without phone service because of the downed cable.

Officers were concentrating their search for the two men in the Acorn Hill-Sterling Chapel Road area.

“We do know that Sterling Chapel Road and Acorn Hill were both effected,” McRae said. “This one cable effected up to 600 residences.”

McRae said eight to 10 sheriff’s deputies, four Department of Public Safety troopers and constables Reed Prehoda, Steve Hill and Gene Bartee, and two sets of tracking dogs and personnel from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice combed a large area in the Harmon Creek bridge area before discontinuing the search around 10:30 p.m.

The Sheriff’s Office initially received a phone call around 5 p.m. that two men were cutting the phone cable.

Sgt. Brian Smallwood of the Sheriff’s Office responded to the call.

When Smallwood reached the bridge, McRae said the two men fled in different directions, leaving behind two large bolt cutters.

“One ran to the west under the bridge and continued in a westerly direction and the other one ran in an easterly direction,” McRae said. “Both ran into a large wooded area covering several thousand acres as well as houses.”

McRae said “we have no reason to believe that they are armed.”

He said the men were wearing bluejeans and black T-shirts. One of the men was wearing a baseball cap.

The Sheriff’s Office will continue its investigation into the attempted theft of the cable and its wiring and try to identify the two suspects by other methods, McRae said.

McRae said the caller “observed the line fall when it was initially cut from the highline poles. The line swagged low right over the Harmon Creek bridge.

“The men were down in the water in the process of cutting the cable into smaller pieces in order to what we believe load them in a truck or onto a trailer.”

McRae said the overhead phone cable is located 30 feet to the east of the bridge, running parallel to Highway 19.

He said the cable’s diameter was “about the size of an adult male’s forearm.”

McRae said the tracking dogs — with six to eight in each set — were brought in from the Ellis and Estelle prison units to search for the men.

“We had to stop north- and soundbound traffic multiple times because of manpower or the tracking dogs would work themselves back to the roadway (Highway 19). We stopped traffic for the safety of the dogs. They are highly trained and expensive.

“I appreciate the assistance we received from everyone on this operation.”

McRae said the theft of phone cable has become a “big problem in the East Texas area, including Walker, Polk, San Jacinto, Trinity, Grimes and Madison counties.

He said the cable is being pulled down and cut for the aluminum alloy and copper wiring to sell and possibly support drug habits of the thieves.

McRae said the cable pulled down in the Harmon Creek bridge area contained 1,200 wires.

“Copper itself is the biggest problem,” McRae said.











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