A City of Thomson employee is being hailed as "a hero" after he witnessed a recent break-in at the city barn and provided police with information which led to the arrests of two of three suspects now in custody.
Police say the case has resulted in the solving of at least seven government and private business break-ins in the city, as well as at least one vandalism case involving a downtown business.
In an unrelated case, meanwhile, two other suspects - both juveniles - have been nabbed on a burglary charge involving the recent break-in of a business off Harrison Road.
The case involving the rash of burglaries and at least one other property crime has the police chief praising the help of a city water department employee, who requested that his name not be used in the news story.
"He's definitely a hero in my book for what he did in helping us to solve a rash of crimes that had been going on in downtown and elsewhere in the city during the last several weeks," said Thomson Police Chief John Hathaway. "As a result of his action, three suspects have now been taken into custody in connection with break-ins of a number of businesses."
One of the suspects is 17-year-old Winston Smith, of the 800 block of B Street, Thomson, according to police Investigator Lt. Scott Whittle. The names of the other two suspects, ages 14 and 16, cannot be made public, because they are considered juveniles. The older suspect is charged with four counts of burglary and one count of criminal damage to property, Lt. Whittle said. The juveniles each have been charged with seven counts of burglary and one count of criminal damage to property, he added.
Mr. Smith is being held in the McDuffie County Law Enforcement Center in Thomson, while the juvenile suspects are being held at the Regional Youth Development Center in Augusta, Lt. Whittle said.
Warrants were taken out Tuesday against Mr. Smith, the investigator said. Both juveniles, meanwhile, appeared before Juvenile Judge Brett Hammond on Tuesday morning
"We'd probably still be looking for these guys if it weren't for that city employee's help," said Chief Hathaway. "His help was greatly appreciated."
Lt. Whittle, who spent many hours probing the cases and attempting to develop leads as to who committed the crimes, commends the city employee, too.
"Without that city employee getting involved, these cases probably wouldn't be solved right now," Lt. Whittle said.
Since mid March, at least eight businesses throughout Thomson - several in the downtown district - have been broken into, police say. Various items, including an undisclosed amount of cash, as well as at least one weapon, were taken during the burglaries.
The case began unraveling last Wednesday night about 9:45 p.m. when the city employee spotted two men jumping out a window of a building known as the break room at the city barn, located on Railroad Street.
The city employee, who doesn't think of himself as a hero, said in an interview on Monday that he was just doing his job when he became involved in helping police solve the case.
"I felt like I was just doing my job as a city worker," he said. "If anything was taken, I didn't want somebody blaming me for something I didn't do."
Police officers converged on the scene at which time those two suspects were taken into custody. A third suspect later was arrested, police said. Officers John James, Matt Massey and Ricahrd Brassell were involved in the arrests.The police investigator said the government buildings involved in the burglaries included the Thomson-McDuffie County Library, McDuffie County Health Department, The Thomson Housing Authority and the city barn. Private business burglaries solved include: Dixie Lock and Safe, G. Smith Cleaners and Baird and Company. The damage to property case involved bricks being thrown through the front door of World Finance.
In a separate case involving the break-in of Tractor Supply, two juveniles, ages 14 and 16, recently were charged with one count of burglary, Lt. Whittle said. They, too, are being held at RYDC. Officer Jamie Henning was involved in those arrests.