By Eric Francis
BRIDGEWATER – Three young men have been charged with burglary and drug possession after they allegedly made a late night foray into three businesses within the Bridgewater Mill Mall last Thursday evening.
Jakob Blanchard, 19, pleaded innocent on Monday to three felony counts of burglary and accompanying misdemeanor counts of possession of heroin and possession of marijuana.
Charles Bowen, 23, pleaded innocent to three felony counts of burglary and misdemeanor possession of a narcotic.
Dale Coughlin, 21, pleaded innocent to the same three felony burglary charges and was the only member of the trio not to be charged with drug possession.
Facing maximum potential penalties of up to 45 years in jail each, all three men were ordered to observe 24-hour-a-day curfews at their residences while their cases are pending, with limited exceptions for “verifiable work purposes” and things like medical and legal appointments.
A half-dozen Vermont State Police troopers rapidly became involved in the investigation after employees arriving for work at Ramunto’s Pizza discovered first thing on Friday morning that they’d been the victim of what was their businesses’ third overnight burglary.
The cash drawer had been taken from the register in Ramunto’s and further inside the mill thousands of dollars worth of jewelry had been stolen from a jewelry store owned by Zoe Parent. Directly across the hallway from the jewelry store, Donna’s Hair Salon had also been broken into and about $60 worth of petty cash was taken, in addition to a space heater.
Police quickly spotted several clues: flat-bladed tool marks around the doors that were pried open – possibly from a screwdriver – and a distinctive “skateboarding” sneaker print left on one of Ramunto’s barstools that employees remembered as having been wiped down right before the previous night’s closing. But by far the most useful lead, police said, was the tape from a hidden video surveillance camera that Ramunto’s had installed in their office following the other recent incursions.
Robert Ramunto cued up the video and quickly found the part showing two or possibly three subjects entering the office after midnight. Ramunto’s staff clustered around for a look and two of the employees said that one of the figures looked like a former restaurant employee – Jakob Blanchard – who lives right across the street from the mill mall.
As suspicion began to turn to Blanchard, an earring missing from the jewelry store was found on the staircase leading out the front of the mall to Route 4, right on the path to Blanchard’s apartment.
Four troopers walked to the apartment complex across the street and, Trooper Dan Martin recalled, noticed “shoe prints that looked very similar to the one photographed on the bar stool” clustered around a car in the parking lot and leading up the steps outside one of the rear apartments. Trooper Martin knocked on that door only to have it opened by “a young man (matching) the subject on the video.”
Blanchard invited Martin and Trooper Andrew Collier to step inside his residence where the officers said they immediately noticed “a baggie of marijuana in plain view (and) syringes on the floor.”
Martin said he explained to Blanchard that they had just been watching a surveillance video that looked an awful lot like him. “If you have my picture I probably did it,” Blanchard replied, according to the affidavit filed with the court.
Trooper Martin said Blanchard then asked if he would “have a chance to give the property back” but, Martin wrote, Blanchard balked at telling the trooper exactly where the items were hidden because that would require “giving up someone else who was involved.”
The troopers then arrested Blanchard and searched him, allegedly turning up “several empty heroin packets in his front right pocket along with a hypodermic needle and three full baggies of heroin,” Martin wrote.
Back at the state police barracks, Martin wrote, Blanchard “banged on the door of the booking room” and said, “He wanted to give back the stolen property and if he was allowed to make a phone call he could arrange to have the property brought back to his apartment.” Martin let Blanchard make the call and then Collier and Trooper Rich Slusser staked out the residence from across the street until Charles Bowen and Dale Coughlin walked over from their nearby apartment and allegedly deposited several of the missing items in the foyer outside Blanchard’s apartment.
After the troopers walked up to the pair, Martin wrote, Coughlin admitted the trio had gone into the mill the previous night through an open back door and taken beer and wine from Ramunto’s before driving around a bit and then returning later to pry open the doors of the beauty salon and the jewelry store, Martin wrote.
The pair were arrested on the spot and transported to the state police barracks in Royalton while troopers applied for a search warrant for both Blanchard’s apartment and the one that Bowen and Coughlin shared nearby. The searches turned up a sock in Blanchard’s apartment that was stuffed with “most of the stolen jewelry along with some cash” as well as a few more hypodermic needles and some additional drug paraphernalia which was destroyed by the police. Bowen’s bedroom yielded three packets of a white powdery substance that tested positive for amphetamines and in a nearby room police found three orange Adderall pills, according to the police report.
On Monday morning, State Trooper Dan Martin came to the Mill Mall to return the stolen property.
“I’m pretty sure we’ve got most of it here,” Martin said. “If not, we know who has it.”
This story first appeared in the Feburary 10th print edition of the Vermont Standard.