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February 17, 2014

Suspects wanted in Tri-County burglaries

Could be responsible for at least 6 break-ins

CORBIN — By John L. Ross / Staff Writer

Law enforcement from the Tri-County and beyond have joined forces in the search for suspects wanted in several regional burglaries.

The suspects, who could number as many as three, could be responsible for at least six burglaries combined — one in Knox County, two in Laurel County, two in Whitley County and one in Jellico, Tenn.

Laurel County Sheriff John Root said Detective Josh Scott has asked for the public’s help in locating those responsible for burglarizing the East Bernstadt Shell station and convenience store Feb. 5.

Root said the suspects in this burglary forced entry through the front door of the business — and once inside, the stealing began.

Root said the suspects stole an undisclosed amount of cash from an ATM unit, cash from the business itself and a number of Marlboro cigarettes.

After the heist, the suspects fled the business through the back door.

Keavy Grocery was hit with a similar heist in early January, the sheriff added.

The grocery, located at the intersection of KY-363 and KY-312, was burglarized in much the same way — unknown suspects forced entry into the grocery by breaking out the front glass door.

Root said the suspects attempted to break into an ATM unit there.

During their investigation, Laurel County deputies learned of another similar burglary which occurred at a Shell station just off I-75 at Exit 15 in Whitley County.

Whitley County Chief Deputy Kenny “KY” Fuson said in that burglary, thieves aimed for the cash in an on-site ATM.

“It appears they took a sledgehammer and busted through the wall of the store,” Fuson said. “They broke into a safe in the building, emptied its contents, and left the safe there.”

Fuson added that an undisclosed amount of cash was stolen in this burglary — and pointed out the Fast Track convenience store in Whitley County was burglarized in similar fashion.

He also said that Jellico Police have investigated yet another similar burglary at the Shell gas station and convenience store “by the cloverleaf off of I-75.”

Root and Fuson agree these burglaries may likely be committed by the same offenders — and may be linked to the burglary of Grab N Go in Knox County.

Knox County Sheriff John Pickard said that deputies continue their search for at least two suspects who burglarized that convenience store on U.S. 25E in Gray Tuesday.

They, too, seek the public’s help.

Chief Deputy Derek Eubanks said after the store was closed, two suspects “hit” the store at the intersection of KY-233 and U.S. 25E at 1:30 a.m.

“They went in and disabled the burglar alarm system and the camera system — all but a couple,” Eubanks said. “After that, they waited for about an hour — and then came back.”

Cash was the main thing stolen, he said.

“They broke into a video poker machine, and an ATM machine inside,” Eubanks said, adding that both were damaged during the burglary. “They also tried to get into the safe.”

Eubanks said the investigation has led to possibly a third person involved, driving the vehicle used during the crime.

But there are definitely two suspects — and there’s video evidence to prove it.

Working surveillance cameras captured the images of the two black-masked suspects, one of whom was in what appears to be a hooded blue pullover, the other a gray hooded jacket.

The image from the outside of the store captures the break-in, with both suspects appearing to use some sort of lever to pry open the front doors.

The still photo from the footage from inside the store shows that both suspects appear to be wearing gloves — the blue-jacketed suspect looks to be holding some type of black bag.

Store employee Gary Warhurst, of Gray, said when he came into work Tuesday afternoon he knew something wasn’t right — he worked the night before until close.

“It looks like they pried open the door with a crowbar,” Warhurst said, adding the banking facility already had removed the damaged ATM machine.

The door frame itself was damaged.

He also added that no one was in the store at the time of the burglary and as far as he knew, all they got was cash.

Root said that deputies from the Tri-County continue to investigate these crimes to uncover further similarities in the rash of burglaries — all have involved businesses with an ATM, where burglars attempted to gain entry to the ATM machines in those businesses.

Eubanks said Sheriff John Pickard requests anyone with any information about Tuesday’s burglary to contact Knox County’s lead investigator, Deputy Chad Wagner, at (606) 546-3181, or, if after normal business hours, call (606) 546-3441.

Root also requests that anyone with any information regarding any of these burglaries to contact the Laurel County Sheriff’s office at (606) 864-6600, or (606) 878-7000.

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