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More Businesses Hit in Weekend Break-ins

FREELAND — The string of South End burglaries continued over the weekend, with three more businesses in Freeland reporting attempted break-ins.

But officials from the Island County Sheriff’s Office told business owners at a special meeting Monday that detectives may have a potential suspect. Authorities also think more than one criminal group is responsible for the break-ins.

“In the 15 years or so that I have been working in Island County, this is sort of an unprecedented thing,” Det. Rick Felici said.

“The frequency of burglaries in this short period of time is unique and I am beginning to wonder if there isn’t more than one thing going on at the same time,” he said.

Felici noted the differences in the crimes — from cases of candy and beer being stolen to large amounts of cash and high-value electronics — and that indicates there is more than one burglar and that one is more seasoned than the other.

“All burglaries have something in common,” he said, but noted the number of crimes. “You’d have to be a pretty busy burglar.”

“Langley’s had some issues and Clinton’s had some issues,” Felici added. “Unfortunately, they are all happening at the same time. They get through the door, take what they need and they are gone within two to three minutes, tops. One of them is at a more professional burglary level than the other.”

With stepped-up patrols in the Freeland area, investigators are getting closer to a suspect, Felici said.

Police are also trying to enhance video images taken from an attempted break-in at McQueen’s service station and auto parts store in Freeland.

The burglars are not all from Whidbey Island.

“Some of them are from off-island and I am fairly certain the rest are local; the regular suspects, if you will,” Felici said.

As a result of the increase in crime in Freeland, Sheriff Mark Brown has authorized more overtime for deputies to conduct extra patrols in the area.

“We are not looking the other way. We are certainly aware of what’s happening and where,” Brown told business owners at the meeting this week.

“I’ve got no problem spending overtime to protect the citizens. I think it is my duty,” Brown said.

Brown, however, said his deputies are stretched thin and the public can help prevent crime.

“I have 43 commissioned personnel to service 54,000 people and that’s why

I need help from the public,” he said.

Brown said business owners should leave their lights on, research noisy alarm systems and reinforce doors to help prevent burglaries in the future.

“Make phone calls from a cell phone or another phone away from the scene,” Felici added. “You don’t know how many times the victim swept the broken glass up and then called us afterward. That is all evidence we can use to help find the criminal.”

Tina Beard, the owner of The Paint Escape, was burglarized a year ago. And while she is hopeful that the sheriff’s office has a suspect, she said later she would like to see more effort from deputies when it comes to patrolling.

“I felt I was heard but I don’t know if it’s going to make any difference at all,” Beard said.

“I don’t think if they solve this case, that that will solve the problem. Island County is growing very rapidly and with more population, comes more crime,” she said.

This week’s meeting came after a weekend of new break-in attempts at Freeland businesses.

Dori Hallberg, who owns Island Tea Company, had a sneaking suspicion that something was wrong at her store — again.

Sometime during the weekend, someone attempted to get inside Island Tea Company. Her store had been hit by a burglar in early March.

The person broke through one of the boards that blocked the back door and had been working on another but was unsuccessful, Hallberg said.

Hers wasn’t the only business to get hit in Freeland either.

China City was broken into Friday and Monday nights, though nothing was stolen. Owner Jack Ng credited his alarm system.

“The last two days, an alarm went off at China City, one at 4 a.m. Friday and another at 1 a.m. Monday. People are watching us,” he said.

“We have cameras but not in the area where they broke in. The alarm system really helped all around,” Ng said.

China City had been burglarized five or six times during the past six years, Ng said, which prompted installation of alarm systems.

Last week, Second Chance was broken into and someone stole $155 and a flatscreen monitor, Hallberg said.

Someone also attempted to get inside Gretchen’s Hairworks, she said.

For Hallberg, this past week has been about learning the lesson that just because a business gets burglarized once doesn’t mean it won’t get hit again.

“I was so disturbed, breathless, they sent a chaplain with the officer this morning,” she said.

“All weekend long, I just had a feeling. I was totally prepared to come in and shocked when I saw one of the two-by-fours laying on the floor. To me, it is so brazen, that in some ways, it’s more alarming.”

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

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