Man steals bucket truck, proceeds to knock out power for thousands on Long Island

A bucket truck pulled down wires and power poles in Elmont, Long Island on Aug. 27, 2013.

ELMONT, N.Y. A huge cleanup is under way on Long Island following a bizarre incident that left thousands of homes without power Tuesday morning.

Police said a 53-year-old transit worker stole a bucket truck from a Metropolitan Transportation Authority yard in Jamaica, reports CBS station WCBS in New York.

Nassau County Police Inspector Kenneth Lack said Joel Grasman had broken into the yard overnight to steal welding equipment and took the bucket truck to get away.

"He realizes the welding equipment will not fit in his personal truck, so he takes the truck to move the stolen equipment," Lack said.

Grasman, a "light maintainer" at the facility and a 23-year employee of the agency, then drove the truck through the streets of Elmont with the boom raised, taking down trees and power lines around 4 a.m., police said. It is unclear if Grasman raised the bucket truck's boom intentionally.

"It sounded like he was hitting cars. I thought he was hitting all the cars on my block," one man told CBS 2's Kathryn Brown. "I got a 2-year-old car so I ran outside and I saw wires down all over my car, tree branches all over the car, all over the neighborhood. Total chaos."

"There was a series of explosions last night like something out of a 'Frankenstein' movie," resident Michael Edan said. "Earlier the lights were flickering on and off and just as I came outside they went off for good and I started hearing this stuff blow up. It was eerie."

"It's truck could do this much damage," a witness told WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs.

"I thought something fell out of the sky," resident Emily Mason said. "We came outside and saw limbs everywhere like a tornado went through and I never saw so many power lines down in my life."

Grasman, of Elmont, fled the scene and eventually pulled over near the Southern State Parkway where he abandoned the truck and ran, 1010 WINS' Steve Sandberg reported.

Police chased Grasman on foot and placed him under arrest.

Police said Grasman has a long criminal history involving theft, drugs and alcohol, Xirinachs reported.

He faces a number of charges including criminal mischief, intentional damage to property and reckless damage to property, Brown reported. Police said alcohol was not a factor.

Grasman's attorney declined to comment, pending his client's arraignment.

The truck took down trees, dozens of utility poles and eight traffic signals. Officials said it will take days to make repairs.

Long Island Power Authority officials said the truck took down distribution and transmission lines, leaving roughly 6,000 customers without power at one point.

Lack said no one was injured in the incident.

"It was fortunate that it was in early morning hours; that there was not many people or cars on the street at the time," Lack said. "Very fortunate no one was hurt. Significant injuries could have occurred both from the falling poles, the wires, the possibility of getting electrocuted, It's really quite amazing."

Meacham and Corona avenues, Dutch Broadway, and K Street were closed because of downed poles. Exit 15 of the Southern State Parkway was also closed off to traffic.