Since Sept. 10, the four individuals have allegedly taken 480 cartons of Marlboro cigarettes and assorted tobacco products valued at $15,358. On each occasion that the culprits entered the store they moved throughout the store at a fast pace, only taking tobacco products and leaving the store within two to three minutes of initially entering it. On each occasion the defendants would take multiple cartons of cigarettes, sometimes as few as 40 and on one occasion as many as 170.
Deputies’ ‘big break’ came in the case on the rain soaked evening of Jan. 6, the sheriff said. While conducting a routine surveillance of the building, officers observed four individuals breaking into the store around 3 a.m. The suspects attached a metal chain to the bumper of a 1988 Ford Crown Victoria and tied the opposite end of the chain to the store’s front door and proceeded to pull the door from its hinges, Williams said. Upon witnessing this, deputies attempted to interrupt their efforts at which time a pursuit ensued down Hwy 16 S in the cover of night.
Due to the treacherous conditions and low visibility, officers lost sight of the suspects around the foot of the mountain in proximity of the Timber Ridge area in Wilkes County. The suspects ‘get away’ car was later located on a side road in a creek in Wilkes County. The suspects had allegedly ditched their escape vehicle and left on foot. It was also learned that the suspects had broken into a cabin in the area where they had changed into dry clothing. Deputies also discovered that the 1988 Ford had been reported stolen earlier by registered owner Melissa Marie Shepherd of North Wilkesboro, originally from the Lansing area, authorities said.
The four charged individuals are as listed:
• Tim James Crane, 25, of Puleur has been charged with one count of breaking and entering and felony larceny. He is held under a $30,000 secured bond.
• Christopher Willard Crane, 24 of North Wilkesboro has been charged with seven counts of breaking and entering, and seven counts of felony larceny. He is in custody under a set $150,000 secured bond.
• Melissa Marie Shepherd, 32, of North Wilkesboro has been charged with one count of breaking and entering and one count of felony larceny. Shepherd is in jail under a $5,000 bond.
• Kenneth William Sheets of Millers Creek has been charged with six counts of felony breaking and entering and six counts of felony larceny. Sheets is out on a $20,000 unsecured bond as of Friday.
They were all scheduled to appear in court on Thursday.
Sheriff Williams applauded his deputies on the job. “I would like to commend Major Bucky Absher, Sgt. Detective Grady Price, Lt. Detective Peyton Colvard and Detective Rob Powers for their hard work in bringing this rash of break-ins to the end.”
Williams also stressed how senseless the crimes were, considering the objective of each incident was to take large quantities of cigarettes.
The seven incidents of breaking and entering have not linked to the case of clerk Ashley Burgess who admitted to reporting a false robbery on Dec. 16, the sheriff said Burgess admitted to cutting the store’s phone lines and placing the money in her vehicle before filing the false report. She has been charged with filing a false police report and larceny by employee.