P.E.I. man sentenced to 30 months for stealing Maritime Electric copper wire

A man from Dingwells Mills pleaded guilty to theft of copper from a Maritime Electric substation in Kings County in 2016. He's been to prison for copper theft before. His defence lawyer says he has mental health problems.

Ronald Andrew Laybolt stole copper from a substation in Kings County in 2016

The copper thief cut his way through a security fence and barbed wire. The equipment in the substation handles 138,000 volts of electricity. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

A man who has repeatedly stolen copper wire — most recently from a high-voltage electrical station — poses "extreme danger to himself, utility workers and first responders," according to a judge in P.E.I. Supreme Court.

Ronald Andrew Laybolt, 35, of Dingwells Mills, was sentenced Monday to 30 months in prison.

Laybolt pleaded guilty to break, enter and theft from the Maritime Electric substation on Church Road in St. Charles, Kings County, in November 2016.

"This created high risk not only to the offender, but to staff of Maritime Electric and any member of the public who may have come near," said Justice Terri MacPherson, as she handed down the sentence. "This has become a specialization for Mr. Laybolt."

Court heard Laybolt cut through a security fence and barbed wire to get at the electrical equipment inside the substation, carrying 138,000 volts of electricity. He sold the stolen copper and aluminum to a metal recycling business in Charlottetown. The next day, he returned to the substation and stole more metal.

Court heard Maritime Electric employees had been scouting out local metal recycling depots, keeping a lookout for their missing materials. They called police when Laybolt showed up with his second trunk load.

This was not Laybolt's first conviction for stolen copper.

He also pleaded guilty Monday to possession of stolen property — $8,000 worth of copper pipe and brass fittings stolen from a Charlottetown construction company last year. Court heard Laybolt sold the metals for $711 to a business in Cardigan that buys used goods.

In handing down sentence, the judge noted Laybolt had previously been convicted of various copper thefts from asphalt plants in Kings County, including one theft in 2010 in which $150,000 of copper was stolen.

Laybolt's defence lawyer told court he has mental health problems, along with substance abuse and addictions issues.

The metals stolen from the Maritime Electric substation were worth about $38,000, court heard. The utility says copper theft is a dangerous business.

"Our workers, when they go into a substation when it's been tampered with from a copper theft perspective, they may not know," said ​Kim Griffin, a spokesperson for Maritime Electric, after the sentencing. "Any of our employees — as well as the people breaking in — could be electrocuted or killed."

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Brian Higgins


Brian Higgins joined CBC Prince Edward Island in 2002, following work in broadcasting and print journalism in central Canada. He follows law courts and justice issues on P.E.I., among other assignments.