The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office caught some pretty big fish with a fly rod recently.
The $1,300 rod, taken from a car, was key to arrests in connection with a series of vehicle break-ins in Missoula and Mineral counties over the past month, the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday.
John Wheeler, 23, and Elizabeth Andrade, 21, both of Lolo, were booked into the Missoula County jail Friday. Both have since been released.
The case involves nine vehicle break-ins between July 10 and Aug. 4 in which the fly rod and purses containing checkbooks, credit cards and cellphones were taken. Twenty-four people were victimized by the break-ins, said sheriff’s Detective Jason Johnson.
He credited 27-year Sheriff’s Department veteran Detective Dave Walrod, who monitored bank records to see when and where the credit cards were used, and then obtained surveillance footage of the suspects.
In addition, Walrod checked local pawnshops to see if the fly rod turned up – a move that netted the name of the woman who pawned it, Johnson said. Walrod also tracked a stolen cellphone to a local gas station where it had been dumped, then got surveillance video of the suspects disposing of the phone, he said.
Meanwhile, Justin Singleterry, a game warden in Mineral County, also was investigating several vehicle break-ins at fishing access sites, Johnson said. Singleterry tracked a stolen cellphone to the suspect’s house in Lolo, where he saw what appeared to be stolen items in the suspect’s vehicle – at which point Walrod and Singleterry put their cases together.
Sheriff’s detectives and game wardens from Missoula and Mineral counties served a search warrant on the house and vehicle last week. Wheeler and Andrade were arrested Friday.
Wheeler had stolen property when he was arrested, Johnson said. His alleged accomplice gave a full confession, he said.
The case has been forwarded to the Missoula County Attorney’s Office. Potential charges include felony theft from a motor vehicle and felony forgery, for writing checks from the victims’ checkbooks. Potential misdemeanor charges include motor vehicle trespass and deceptive practices.
Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, email@example.com or @CopsAndCourts.