On Nov. 24, the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office arrested a 48-year-old man and a 16-year-old boy after a concerned citizen noticed someone with a flashlight inside Beechwood Dry Cleaners on Douglas Avenue at about 4 a.m. that day, when the business was closed.
The first deputies on the scene said they noticed a vehicle leaving the area, so they performed a traffic stop. Evidence of two business break-ins were recovered from the vehicle, as well as stolen cash and property.
After executing search warrants, Capt. Mark Bennett believes the two individuals to be suspects in at least 12 break-ins and thefts from area businesses between Oct. 22 and Nov. 24.
“They had a plethora of equipment in the car that we could tie to the break-ins — they were pretty active,” Bennett said. “With the sophistication they had, they’ve probably moved beyond the 12 break-ins and potentially were active in other counties.”
The dollar amount of lost property from these 12 break-ins is still being calculated, but tens of thousands of dollars worth of property has been stolen, police said. This figure does not include the value of the total loss of the Graphix Signs & Embroidery building, which is also still being determined.
The arson at the Holland Township embroidery store started shortly before 3 a.m. Nov. 20 and completely destroyed the building, according to firefighters. Upon investigation, police found evidence of a break-in at the store and evidence of an accelerant used to start the fire. Firefighters worked to put out the fire for several hours, but the building was a “total loss,” according to Holland Township Fire Chief Jim Kohsel. Nobody was injured during the fire.
Detectives have been working with the Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office to authorize criminal charges for both suspects for the arson and the break-ins. The 48-year-old man has an extensive criminal background, and was on parole for similar offenses when he was arrested Friday.
While Bennett was unable to officially confirm the 48-year-old’s identity until after he is arraigned today, only one 48-year-old man was booked at the Ottawa County Jail on Nov. 24. That man, Shane William Wheeler, has a criminal record including operating a vehicle without a permit, breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony in Georgetown Township in 2009, being a fugitive from justice in 2008, along with equipping a vehicle with a radio able to receive signals on frequencies assigned for police, and reckless driving in 2002.
Both Wheeler and the teen have each been charged with two counts of breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony or larceny and two counts of possession of burglar’s tools from the two break-ins on Nov. 24. Several other charges are expected for both individuals.
The teen is being held in a youth home at this point on two charges relating to last Friday’s break-in, and Bennett said he expects additional charges to be filed. The prosecutor’s office is moving to have the 16-year-old tried as an adult due to the severity of the charges. Once that determination is made, police will release the teen’s identity.
“The two are acquaintances through a mutual friend, but there’s no family ties there,” Bennett said. “The 48-year-old is known to law enforcement and the teen was definitely influenced by the 48-year-old’s behavior.”
Bennett is confident the 16-year-old will be tried as an adult in court.
“It was a good piece of police work by the patrol guys, and our concerned citizen gave a description, so (the police) found the vehicle,” Bennett said. “We’re still putting together everything these two may be involved in.”