Oct. 21, 2002 – Those responsible for vandalizing telephone and cable-television lines on St. Thomas and St. Croix over the last few weeks have managed to elude police, leaving few, if any, clues about their identity.
So said St. Croix Deputy Police Chief Angel Santos on Monday. He added that the public's assistance is essential to solving the crimes that have causes power losses to some 8,000 residential and business customers since Innovative Telephone and Innovative Cable-TV employees went on strike on Oct. 2.
"Unfortunately, we have not been receiving much calls with information on the vandals," Santos said, although the police have heard many complaints from those without service. "People out there are tight lipped," he said.
Santos noted that police cannot assume the perpetrators are striking Innovative employees in the absence of evidence linking them to the vandalism. It is possible that someone could be taking advantage of the situation, causing damage to the lines so that the union members would be blamed, he said.
Whether the fault lies with any of the 310 United Steelworkers of America union members on strike or not, Santos said, police believe it's not just one individual responsible for the damage. "Because of the areas being hit and the reports generated," he said, "we can rightfully assume it is more than one person."
Santos encouraged anyone with information about the vandalism to come forward to police. Such individuals "don't have to leave their names or anything," he said. "Just help us with what's going on."
The Chambers of Commerce of St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix issued a joint statement imploring the vandals to stop their actions, calling the crimes theft. "They are stealing our ability to call the police, an ambulance, our doctor and the fire department," the statement, signed by the St. Croix Chamber's president, Frank Fox, said. "These thieves are stealing jobs, stealing government revenue and stealing opportunities."
Santos echoed Fox's sentiments. "It is no longer a luxury" to have a telephone at home, he said. "It's a matter of necessity with regards to the elderly, those sick at home or who live by themselves."
Innovative Telephone spokesman Thomas Dunn said phone line vandalism reached a high over the weekend, with more than 2,500 customers deprived of service. Late Friday night and early Saturday morning, service was cut to St. Croix's Southgate and Cotton Valley areas, he said, and St. Thomas's West End beyond the University of the Virgin Islands campus and at Bordeaux.
The company has managed to cut repair time to the vandalized lines to a few hours with the aid of workers hired to help out during the strike. As of Monday afternoon, Dunn said, there were no new reports of lines cut.
Attorney General Iver Stridiron said last week that such an offense is a federal and local crime, carrying a maximum penalty of around five years in jail.
Unionized Innovative workers remained on the picket lines Monday. Negotiations with federal mediators failed last Thursday after two days of talks. The labor dispute centers on union members' dissatisfaction with Innovative's proposed retirement and other benefits.
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