POSTED: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 -- 4:30 p.m.
By NBC15's Dana Brueck
Following the footprints. Fresh snow helps police pursue a suspected criminal for more than three miles.
Police in Janesville put old fashioned leg work to use -- tracking down a criminal who left a trail in the snow.
The signs at an Alliant Energy substation in Janesville speak for themselves -- keep out -- for your safety.
"I just want to say it's dangerous for folks to be inside an energized substation... that's why we have the signage we do."
But operations manager Jerry Hale says some have become accustomed to ignoring the warnings... risking their lives for a possible payoff.
"Yeah.. it's valuable stuff."
Thousands of feet of copper wire surround the facility.
Early Tuesday morning, Janesville Police responded to an alarm when security cameras caught an individual inside of the fenced area.
"When they checked the perimeter of the fence, they found an opening cut in the fence and more tracks leading away and that's when they began following the footprints," Deputy Chief John Olsen says.
Police followed the footprints through multiple streets (for more than three miles) before finally catching up to their suspect, behind a garage.
"For something like this, when the criminals are gonna run, I mean, we love fresh snow that's what made it possible really," Olsen says.
Police say Brett Prater cut and stacked about 140 feet of copper grounding wire before fleeing officers.
"He probably could've got about $300 at a junkyard for that amount of copper he had gotten away with," Hale says.
Hale says this kind of thing has become more of a problem, especially here in Rock County... prompting Alliant Energy to install security cameras.
"This one is under surveillance because we had previous problems here," Hale says, and he adds it's the second similar incident at this substation within three months.
"Even for people that are looking to get this copper and other things, they can cut the wrong piece of copper off one of our pieces of equipment and it could be a deadly thing versus a financial gain for them."
For Prater, it has become a criminal thing.
"He made the comment... that it wasn't fair because we had cars."
Now, he's facing multiple charges including attempted theft, criminal damage to property... resisting and others.
Alliant Energy says this incident is unrelated to the outage earlier last night for about 16-hundred customers in Janesville.