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Thief hits more Freeland shops

FREELAND — Several more Freeland businesses were hit by an overnight thief last week, and the burglar made off with beer, cash and candy.

But one business owner on Main Street was able to get video footage of the thief, and has turned over the tape to Island County Sheriff’s Office deputies.

Around 1 a.m. Tuesday morning, a would-be thief attempted to gain entry through the front doors of McQueen’s Whidbey Marine and Auto Supply using a pry bar. The crime was captured on the owner’s video surveillance system.

“That’s how brazen this guy was to try to get inside my store — in the view of the cameras with a sign near the door that reads ‘These premises protected by an alarm system and closed circuit television,’” said Marty Winn, who has owned McQueens since 1992.

The person was wearing a light blue backpack and a black hooded sweatshirt.

“We got video of the guy, though some people have said it looks like a girl,” Marty said.

When the suspected thief could not gain entry into the store in the front, the burglar went around back, broke a window and tried to open a door. Security measures prevented the person from entering, Winn said.

Winn is no stranger to break-ins. In 1994, someone broke into the store through the bathroom and then three years ago, someone got through the front door.

It was then Winn installed an alarm system and a closed circuit television system, he said.

Winn said the recent burglary up the street at Island Tea Company has put business owners on edge.

“It’s always in the back of your mind, but when something happens, it goes to the front of your mind,” he said.

“I feel fortunate because not every business can afford a $6,000 system like I have,” Winn added.

Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation was not so lucky. A thief broke into WAIF’s thrift store on Roberta Avenue and walked away with a lot of money, store manager Mary Dickman said.

“Some time Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, someone got in through a door in the alley,” Dickman said.

“We suffered a cash loss of less than $500. The person knew right where the money was; walked right to it. There was no rustling of drawers, though my assistant manager’s drawers had been rifled through,” she said.

Dickman is more than a little upset about the loss because it means fewer animals will get the help they need.

“That is $500 less at shelters for food, care and medical attention for animals. I am angry. I feel violated. It’s really low when you steal from a nonprofit charity that helps animals,” she said.

“It’s bad any time it happens, but it is a step lower in this case. It’s terrible that the whole town seems to be getting hit and nothing is being done about it,” Dickman said.

While WAIF does not have alarm systems, Dickman has been aware of the building’s vulnerabilities and the crimes that have occurred nearby, she said.

However, she is still investigating what security measures would prevent a theft in the future.

“Who knows what we’re going to do. We have a lot of windows,” she said. “But we’re no longer keeping money on the property.”

Earlier in the week, a thief stole more than $500 from Freeland’s Island Tea Company.

And since Feb. 15, a thief has broken into four Freeland businesses and attempted to get inside two others, the Island County Sheriff’s Office said. That includes a burglary at Freeland Lanes on March 4 where candy and beer was stolen.

Officials said they have made progress in the investigation.

“We’re actively working on the cases and we’ve recovered some evidence,” said Island County undersheriff Kelly Mauck.

The detectives working the case have not identified any suspects yet, however, but are looking at the gathered evidence.

Police are patrolling Freeland as well.

“I can guarantee that deputies are definitely doing business checks,” Mauck said. “I don’t think it is a fair assessment that deputies are not checking.”

“With that being said, we’re the third lowest staffed sheriff’s office in the state. Sometimes, we only have two deputies on duty at night. Manpower is an issue.”

Det. Rick Felici will visit with members of the Freeland Chamber, business owners and the public to answer questions and address concerns during a meeting at 3 p.m. Monday, March 10 at Gerry’s Kitchen.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or swebster@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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