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Copper Thieves Blamed For Dark Road, Pedestrian Struck

MIAMI (CBS4) – South Florida's recent rash of street light vandals could be partially responsible for a crash that left a woman badly hurt. Police said she was hit along a dark Liberty City street, possibly made that way by thieves who have been stealing copper wire from the lights.

Thelma Morrow, 52, was hospitalized in critical condition Wednesday night after being struck by a car while she was crossing NW 7th Avenue and 59th Street around 8:20 p.m.

Miami Fire Rescue Lt. Iggy Carroll said Morrow was hit by a Toyota Corolla; the force was so great that she went through the driver's windshield. She was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Thelma Morrow
(Photo Credit: Jonathan Morrow) Thelma Morrow, 52, was struck and critically injured while trying to cross a dark Liberty City road on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011.

Her son, Jonathan Morrow, told CBS4's Peter D'Oench that is mother is, "a sweet person. She doesn't really bother nobody."

"She works hard as a chef and last night, she was just going out for something to eat when she got hit," said Morrow.

Morrow said she was badly injured. He spoke to her but she is unable to speak.

"Both of her legs broke," he said. "Her liver was cut, her arm broke. She can't even breath on her own. I don't know what to do right now."

He also said his mother had three broken ribs and her neck was fractured.

Lt. Carroll said it was raining and the lights were out, possibly because of people stealing copper wire from them. A roughly 40-block stretch on NW 7th Avenue is in the dark due to copper wire vandals, according to Lt. Carroll.

"The street lights are out between 36th and 79th streets," said Carroll.

"We had to call additional trucks to light up the area so we could see," said Carroll. "We feel if the street lights were working, this woman would have been able to see and the driver of the car would have been able to see and this woman would not be in a hospital fighting for her life."

Officials believe the lack of lighting and heavy rain hindered the vision of the driver.

The Corolla's driver, who was identified as 18-year-old Kinston Dugazon of Miami Gardens, stayed on the scene and spoke with police. He told investigators that he couldn't see her. His entire front windshield was smashed.

So far this year on Miami-Dade County streets alone, nearly 300 streetlights have been broken, vandalized by thieves trying to get at the copper wire inside by breaking into the bases of the light poles.

Thieves have even knocked out 30 streetlights on I-95 in Miami-Dade and in West Palm Beach the problem is so bad, crews are installing anti-theft devices on the light poles.

In the last 4 to 6 months, thieves have stolen copper wire from 100 lights in Palm Beach County, leaving drivers in the dark for 33 miles.

In all they took more than 175 thousand feet of copper wiring.

In the last year alone in Miami-Dade, 30 lights on the stretch of I-95 between NW 30th and 79th streets have been vandalized for copper. And taxpayers have to pay to fix the lights at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Florida Highway Patrol is asking for your help. If you see a driver stopped near a light pole on I-95, give them a call right away so they can check that out.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling has set up a website where law enforcement authorities in the United States and Canada can report thefts. The information is relayed to recycling plants within 100 miles of the incident.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, whose district includes Brownsville and Liberty City, is now pushing to create a copper theft task force.

A County Committee will vote September 13th on whether to create the new task force. If it passes there, the entire Commission will vote on it.

Morrow said the street lights should be fixed because it's putting lives in jeopardy.

"They need to take the time out to go fix the lights," he said. "It could be other people's parents out there who get hit by the same old car… or it could be even worse."

Morrow said he was told that his mother, "should be able to pull through it but it is going to take some time. They said she was in a concussion but she woke up this morning. That's the first good thing we heard so far."

Police said that speed was not a factor in the case and no charges are expected to be filed, D'Oench reported.

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