Federal indictment: Man knocked Pittsburg radio station off air by cutting copper wiring

Like many radio stations across the state, Pittsburg’s KKOW deals with damage caused by copper thieves several times a year.

But Jerry Tibbetts, the station’s engineer, hadn’t seen damage like what happened in early September when someone pulled down a power pole, ripping out the lines that provided electricity to the station’s transmitter tower, plus damaging two other power poles.

“We’ve had copper stolen before,” Tibbetts said Wednesday, “but no one has wrapped a rope around a pole. He just hooked it to his pickup and pulled it down.”

As a result, two radio stations were knocked off the air. KKOW was off about 36 hours and KRPS, Pittsburg State University’s station, was off a little less. A Heartland Rural Electric Cooperative pole was also badly damaged, resulting in a power outage.

Jeffrey L. Blake, 39, of Scammon, was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury in Wichita on charges he knocked KKOW off the air by cutting copper wiring from the transmitter tower. He is charged with one count of attempted damage to a communications system and one count of attempted damage to an energy facility, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said.

The indictment alleges that on Sept. 7, Blake damaged equipment used by KKOW, which serves as part of the Emergency Alert System, a national public warning system. Damage to KRPS’s equipment wasn’t included in the federal charges because that station isn’t part of the national warning system.

The incident happened a little after midnight when Heartland learned about the power outage. Blake was arrested about 3:30 a.m. by Cherokee County Sheriff deputies after they responded to a call about a possible theft in progress at a home north of Columbus and not far from the transmitter tower, the Pittsburg Sun reported in citing the sheriff’s account.

It’s not known if Blake faces charges other than the federal ones.

The cost of damage incurred by KKOW was about $6,000, Tibbetts said.

If convicted on the federal charges, Blake faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on the charge of attempting to damage an energy facility and a maximum of 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000 on the charge of attempting to damage a communications facility.

Other indictments returned Tuesday by the grand jury meeting in Wichita: