Wednesday, January 31st, 2007
Borrowing vehicles may lead to charges
By Margie Wuebker
A 19-year-old Rockford man implicated in the theft of eight vehicles over a six-month period apparently needed transportation to and from Celina to see his girlfriend.
So he merely looked for unlocked vehicles with keys in the ignition.
No charges have been filed as yet, but authorities expect the case to be presented to a Mercer County grand jury in the coming weeks.
"We are waiting for the grand jury before filing any charges," Celina Police Chief Dave Slusser told The Daily Standard. Possible misdemeanor charges include unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and driving under suspension.
Slusser believes at least one felony is possible, considering one victim was elderly and one vehicle was taken out of state prior to being abandoned.
A break in the case came Jan. 16 when a 1992 Buick owned by Mike Coats was taken from his Rockford home. Witnesses reported seeing a man in an orange sweatshirt walking through yards in the area between 2 and 2:30 p.m.
Rockford Police Chief Paul May quickly contacted Celina Police since vehicles previously reported missing eventually turned up in the western part of the city.
The Buick turned up 31 minutes later in the Grace Missionary Church parking lot. Police brought in a K-9 unit and a search commenced.
Minutes later Sgt. James Stelzer spotted a man wearing an orange sweatshirt and matching the description supplied by a Rockford witness near the Celina Wine Store. The unidentified suspect was taken into custody and later admitted his role in the vehicle thefts.
"He needed a ride back and forth," May said. "He used whatever vehicle he found and then left it not thinking he was hurting anyone."
In addition to the Coats car, three other vehicles were taken from Rockford. They include a 1993 Ford T-bird taken Jan. 4 from the Monty Gibbons residence; a 1996 Lincoln Towncar taken from the Marcel Welling residence Aug. 10; and a 2000 Pontiac Grand Am taken from the Randy Shellabarger home July 31.
The suspect reportedly admitted to three thefts in Celina:
• A 1991 Cadillac owned by Scott Adams taken from the Chief supermarket parking lot on Aug. 9 and later recovered in Rockford.
• A 1994 Buick belonging to Paul Billerman taken from the 600 block of Hoying Street on Dec. 22. It was found abandoned at Westview Park in Celina.
• A 1995 Mercury Villager owned by Emily Wilck and taken Jan. 8 from the Reynolds & Reynolds parking lot. It was later recovered along Rockford Road in Van Wert County.
May told The Daily Standard vehicle thefts are a rare occurrence in Rockford. In 1997, someone from Texas took a car which was recovered later in Florida.
The latest thefts occurred primarily under the cover of darkness during early morning hours. The perpetrator altered his method of operation to broad daylight and was spotted.
"These were all crimes of opportunity," Slusser said. "They should serve as a reminder to take keys from your vehicle and lock the door. Celina and Rockford are great communities but crimes occur here too."