Thanks to luck and decisive action by a Childs Road home owner who found himself a target of burglars, the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office has made an arrest related to a recent crime spree that began in May in the White Salmon area.
A break came when Mike Belvin, a bread delivery driver, was getting ready for work at about 3:40 a.m. on May 25. Looking outside, he noticed the dome light of his wife's Suburban was on. When he went out to check it, someone looked up, then bolted from the rig.
"He took off, jumped a fence, and ran down the street," Belvin said.
Belvin gave chase, and when he went around a fence after the man, he ran into another man.
"I was screaming for the guy to stop, and I didn't realize there was another one. He turned and tried to run, but I was already running full speed," he said. "I grabbed him and told him he was coming back to my house. He didn't try to fight, and he was drunk."
Belvin collared him, and called 9-1-1 on the cell phone he was carrying in his pocket. KCSO deputies quickly arrived.
"It was a really good response, really fast," Belvin said.
Information gained from that break led authorities to another person, and on the evening of May 28, a suspect in the burglaries was taken into custody near White Salmon. He was identified as Charles W. Kuneki, 22, of Bingen.
"Two suspects were interviewed," said Klickitat County Sheriff Chris Mace. "One individual [Kuneki] was jailed, and information on the other was forwarded to the prosecutor. They are suspects in the El Camino Real burglaries and the recent car thefts."
The subjects are allegedly linked to a car theft from Hood River as well.
Mace said two additional suspects are being sought as "persons of interest" in the crimes.
"There are two other individuals we want to interview," Mace said.
The other individuals were not identified by KCSO.
Recent crimes have included a series of burglaries from residential garages, two car thefts, and several car prowls. The burglaries have claimed a diverse list of items, including a lawnmower, tools, VCR, stereo equipment, beer and wine, CDs, cash, credit cards, garage door openers, bridge tickets, and televisions.
Local residences targeted were in the El Camino Real neighborhood, Loop and Childs Road, Lincoln Street, and elsewhere in the area. In one case, an El Camino Real resident awoke to find a man in her bedroom. The man fled.
In another disturbing incident, a 1997 Toyota Land Cruiser was stolen from an open garage on Lincoln Street during the Memorial Day weekend. The owners were asleep in the house at the time of the theft.
The vehicle was found several hours later on the BZ-Glenwood Highway, but it had been completely destroyed. Authorities said the gas tank had been ignited.
"It was a total loss," said the vehicle's owner, who did not want her name made public. "It had to be scooped up; even the wheels were gone."
She added that she was relieved an arrest had been made in the case, but cautioned that the problem had not necessarily been resolved.
"I think just because they have these guys, crime is not going to stop here," she explained. "I want to tell people not to feel too comfortable. Start locking doors and taking extra precautions. I don't want anyone else to have to go through this. But it just seems to be a part of our lives now."
Another of the victims from the Childs Road thefts was local insurance man Ron Logan. He said the suspects were being pretty brazen.
"They had my stuff sitting out by the road, like `we'll get this on our way back out,'" said Logan.
Logan added that it was fortunate Belvin went to work early.
"If not for Mike getting up and going to work early, they'd still be out there, and next week it might be another neighborhood," Logan said. "Mike catching that kid started the ball rolling to catch the other guy."
Later, Belvin said he didn't intend to respond like an action hero.
"It was a reaction," he explained. "I was scared, and extremely pumped up. It was weird."
Belvin added that he moved to White Salmon about 10 years ago, and never worried about crime.
"We never locked up. We took small town life for granted," he said. "You don't like to think this stuff happens in your little town. It's an eye-opener. Now, everybody is talking about looking out for each other."
Kuneki was transported to the Klickitat County Jail in Goldendale, and has initially been charged with two counts of alleged "Theft 3, vehicle prowl" and one count of allegedly resisting arrest.
"That is pending further investigation and charges," Mace said. "That is not necessarily all he'll be charged with. Other charges may come down as the investigation progresses. Those charges will be left up to the Prosecutor's Office once the investigation is complete."
The resisting arrest charge comes from Kuneki's attempt to avoid the arresting deputies.
"They found him hiding in the shower," Mace explained. "He was cooperative after being discovered, and no weapons were involved."
A roomful of stolen property was displayed at the KCSO West End office, and Mace promised that KCSO would make a strong effort to recover and return stolen property.
"It will temporarily be held as evidence, but then we'll match up the property to the victim," he said.
Mace praised the assistance from local citizens and the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department. He also commended KCSO deputies Ritoch, MacDonald, Schneider, Kegley, and Moe, detective Kallio, and Sgt. Det. Anderson.
"Jason Ritoch in particular did an outstanding job of interviewing and pulling all these cases together," Mace said.
"We sunk a lot of resources into this," he added. "Those guys were stuck on these cases to get it resolved. After the incidents on Childs Road, the citizens up there got active on it, and really helped us get going in the right direction. Those people and the victims up there deserve a lot of credit. It was a team effort of local citizens, local law enforcement, and KCSO to try to get this little spree stopped. We even had a Fish & Wildlife agent help recover some property."