Cable theft darkens Fantasy of Lights

Wednesday, November 12, 2008 5:34 AM EST
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NEW HAVEN — The annual Fantasy of Lights at Lighthouse Point Park could shine a little less brightly this year, after someone stole thousands of dollars’ worth of electrical cables from the display area Monday night.

The attraction is still scheduled to open Nov. 22, but about a dozen of the 68 light displays most likely will be dark at first, said Edwin V. Selden, director of development and external relations for Easter Seals Goodwill Industries, which sponsors the show as a fundraising effort.

Selden said workers who were “putting the finishing touches” on the exhibits discovered the theft Tuesday morning. About 1,400 feet of power cable and about 400 feet of feeder cable — worth $8,000 to $10,000 — were missing from the park’s holiday lights.

Workers also found carts that had been used to move the cable from the exhibits to the park’s entrance, which was locked to vehicles. Selden said that organizers do not hire security for the festival until it opens to the public, but may revise that policy in the future.

The theft was reported to police Tuesday. Sean Matteson, chief of staff for Mayor John DeStefano Jr., said the city has seen an increase in thefts of copper and other wire in recent months. He added that the New Haven Police Department is working to combat the problem.

“It’s a real shame and it’s a sign of the financial times we’re in,” Matteson said of the Fantasy of Lights theft.

The Fantasy of Lights will run from Nov. 22 to Dec. 31. Selden said he thinks it is unlikely that workers will be able to repair the damage from the thefts by opening day, since it could take time to reorder the wire. Volunteers from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers were on the scene Tuesday to assess the loss. An estimated 100 volunteers from five trade organizations in the state donated the work to install the display.

“We do need to find cable to put the displays back together,” Selden said. “Quite frankly, I would hope that there is a good Samaritan out there who might have some cable that they could loan. … It’s not something that most electrical shops have in stock.”

If no donations are forthcoming, Selden said Easter Seals Goodwill will reorder the wire.

While there has been some vandalism and theft at the Fantasy of Lights in the past, Selden said there has never been an incident of this magnitude.

The holiday tradition is in its 14th year and typically attracts between 12,000 and 15,000 carloads of people, Selden said. Groups drive through the lighted displays in what is thought to be the largest holiday light show in the state.

“This is a family fun night,” Selden said. “It’s a fundraiser for us and it’s a community institution, and the revenues that we generate go to provide services to 1,000 clients that we serve annually, most of whom are mentally and physically challenged.”

Easter Seals Goodwill Industries and PSEG Power Connecticut LLC are the event’s main sponsors. The displays are open 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The cost is $10 for passenger cars, $25 for 15-passenger vans or minibuses and $50 for full-size buses.

To contact Easter Seals about donations for the exhibit, call 777-2000, ext. 262.

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