HOUSTON -

A pair of crooks ignored warning signs to get their hands on some brass bolts attached to a CenterPoint Energy transmission tower, officials said.

The men stole the bolts, called grounds, from a tower in Spring Branch near Hollister Road. Officials said grounds help prevent power outages when lightning strikes.

Bernice Jouett said she spotted the men walking along her fence nearby where the crime happened.

"I went outside to look to see what they were doing," said Jouett. "That's when they were unbolting the bolts off the lighting rods."

Jouett said she quickly called 911.

"I gave dispatch as much information as I possibly could," said Jouett.

Fearing police wouldn't arrive in time, Jouett said she jumped in her car to follow them.

"I noticed the one guy fell down as he was turning left onto Hollister," said Jouett.

Jouett said she later found a backpack in a nearby ditch.

"I had to get on my hands and knees to get it out," said Jouett.

Inside the backpack, Jouett said she found the grounds. She saw the two men again, this time in a car. Jouett said they slowed down but took off when they saw her.

She got the license plate number, now CenterPoint Energy and Houston police are investigating the case.

Jouett said she's watching out for her neighbors and fellow electricity users.

"By the time CenterPoint comes back in, they're going to hire a crew to come in survey all these towers, see what's missing, replace the bolts," said Jouett. "That's going to cost and who's going to take care of that cost?"

The Department of Energy estimates copper wire theft costs the nation nearly $1 billion a year. This translates into higher electricity bills.