Thief takes cell tower batteries, disrupts service

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Deputies say a thief in southern Hillsborough County knocked out cell phone coverage for potentially thousands of people.

They say he stole hundreds of pounds of batteries that powered cell phone towers.

"It's pretty selfish," said Larry McKinnon of the Hillsborough Co. Sheriff's Office.

Deputies say that on November 27, William Bingham put in the code to get into the cell tower on Lula Street in Gibsonton, then used a second code to get into where Verizon housed thirty tower powering batteries.

Cell service, including 911, was briefly cut off for potentially thousands of people when deputies say Bingham stole $12,000 worth of batteries.

"The consequences could have easily been tragic had someone tried to call 911 and they couldn't get through," said McKinnon.

On December 8, deputies say he pulled a second job at the tower on 21st Avenue SE in Ruskin, stealing another $14,000 worth of batteries, again knocking out cell service.

Deputies believe that he only got $300 to $400 at recycling centers, but aren't sure how long he was at this.

"He admitted to breaking into cell phone towers in every county in the WC Florida area," said McKinnon. "We know that there are probably dozens of cell phone towers."

Thankfully, deputies say the towers were only out briefly, but those who live nearby were disgusted at the risk deputies say Bingham created for everyone in the area.

"Anybody's grandmother could have fallen down, hurt themselves, broke a hip, not be able to get help," said Tiffany Arroyo, who lives nearby. "I feel like it was incredibly selfish."

Deputies won't say exactly how he got the inside information to get into the towers, but they say they are looking at several other suspects.