CHILLICOTHE, Ohio (WTVN) -- Ross County Sheriff George Lavender calls the theft of copper wire, batteries, and other radio equipment from one of their emergency communications repeaters a life threatening situation.

"It could cost me the life of an officer. It could cost the life of a citizen if we're out in that area and we can't get radio transmissions to our cruisers," said Lavender.

The problem was discovered by a work crew from a cell phone company that had arrived on the scene to work on the tower. They found the lock on the gate cut and equipment missing and called the sheriff's office.

"What they got in materials is probably two to three hundred dollars," Lavender said.

An alert has been sent to scrap yards in the area with a very specific inventory of the stolen items. Lavender hopes it will lead to the arrest of those responsible.

The penalty won't be light when those responsible are caught.

"This is just not a theft, this is not something they're going to get a hundred, $200, $300 for and just get a slap on the wrist. This is disrupting public services. It's a felony in nature charge," said Lavender.

He worries that whoever is responsible might strike another emergency communications tower.

Whoever committed the crime, they weren't afraid of heights. The cable to the antennas on the tower was cut at about the 40 foot level.

Lavender is asking anyone with information to either call his office at (740) 773-1185 or the Southern Ohio Crime Stoppers Tip Line at (740) 773-TIPS (8477).

Repairs are expected to be made some time Wednesday. Until they are, sheriff's deputies will only be able to use five of their six repeaters around the county to help fill in radio dead zones.

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