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    Lawmaker: NC needs tougher punishment for damaging electric systems


    December 7, 2022 - Paul Woolverton

     

      There is a misdemeanor charge

      for damaging power lines and their supporting equipment. Another law says it's a Class I felony — the lowest level of felony in North Carolina

      to damage electrical power lines, utility poles and any other apparatus and equipment used to transmit electrical power.

      CARTHAGE — As Moore County residents entered their third cold night without electricity on Monday, state Sen. Tom McInnis promised to toughen North Carolina's laws to ensure that anyone who damages or destroys electric utility equipment again will be severely punished.

      "Absolutely, absolutely," McInnis said during an interview Monday evening in a vacant lot in Carthage where members of the Robbins First Baptist Church had set up a grill and were giving hotdogs, water and snacks to their hungry neighbors. The power has been off in most of Moore County since Saturday evening, when one or more people fired a gun or guns at two Duke Energy electrical substations, causing heavy damage.

      A Duke Energy spokesman on Monday said 45,000 homes, businesses and other customers lost power. As of Monday evening some power had been restored, but 32,000 customers were still in the dark.

      McGinnis said he has already set things in motion for him to file legislation to address similar damage in the future.

      At his behest, lawyers at the North Carolina General Assembly "are doing research on what the ... crime is here that's been committed, what the penalty for that crime could be, and to make sure that that penalty equals the crime," McInnis said.

      "If the crime's up here, and the penalty's down here, we've got a problem," McInnis said, raising one hand over his head and putting the other hand down low to illustrate.

      "We need to make sure that the crime and the penalty are equal," he said.

      McInnis' initial impression is that the punishment is "not severe," he said, but noted this is just his first impression and that he wants to look at the laws more closely.

      North Carolina law has several statutes regarding property damage, and some that specifically address damage to electric utility lines and equipment.

      There is a misdemeanor charge for damaging power lines and their supporting equipment. Another law says it's a Class I felony — the lowest level of felony in North Carolina — to damage electrical power lines, utility poles and any other apparatus and equipment used to transmit electrical power.

      People with no criminal record with a Class I felony conviction get probation and don't go to prison unless they violate their probation, according to the sentencing chart in a prison sentencing guide published by the North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission. Those with extensive prior criminal records can at most serve two years in prison per charge, the chart says.

      Robbins church brings food and water to hungry people

      Carthage area residents were grateful for the hotdogs and water from the members of the Robbins First Baptist Church.

      The event was organized by church member John Galloway, said Pastor Kenneth McNeill. Galloway is a retired Fayetteville Fire Department captain, and his wife, Casey, used to work there, too. Shortly before 5 p.m., John Galloway estimated that at least 300 hotdogs had been served.

      And as the sun went down, people lined up.

      "I really want to thank these people because that's very nice of them," said Tasha Bandy of Carthage. She said she and her husband and three children have had a difficult time since losing their electricity on Saturday evening.

      Her family got a generator Sunday night, but she had to travel to Sanford and Fayetteville to get gasoline for it and her car. The gas pumps in Moore County had no electricity to operate, and the gas stations in nearby Hoke County had run out, Bandy said.

      She took her work computer to her mother's home in Hoke County so she could get electricity to power it without burning through the gasoline in the generator at home, she said.

      Meanwhile, the family's food in their freezer and refrigerator has spoiled, Bandy said.

      "It's been hard," she said. "It's been rough, but I feel like at the end of the day that something good will come out of this, especially with God ... being part of it."

      Senior North Carolina reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and pwoolverton@gannett.com.

      There is a misdemeanor charge

      for damaging power lines and their supporting equipment. Another law says it's a Class I felony — the lowest level of felony in North Carolina

      to damage electrical power lines, utility poles and any other apparatus and equipment used to transmit electrical power.

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