Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
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Sunday, March 1, 2015
2 barricaded burglary suspects found in duct work in Tullytown shop
Posted: Monday, February 23, 2015
Two Philadelphia men are accused of using a sledgehammer and pick ax to break through the roof of a Tullytown gun shop.
Once inside, they allegedly stole a mounted sheep’s head before they were both apprehended about eight hours later.
After setting off the security alarm at Mike’s Guns & Sporting Goods, suspects Ashier Williams, 21, and James “Unique” Townes, 22, both of Philadelphia, allegedly hid in the ventilation system of the building that houses four stores in the 200 block of Levittown Parkway.
Williams also allegedly called 911 while holed up in the duct work, claiming there was a dead body on nearby Lakeside Drive in an attempt to distract police and allow the men to escape.
Both men were unarmed, police said.
The cellphone call confirmed the suspects’ hiding place inside the building, police said.
Tullytown police Chief Daniel Doyle said authorities believe the men simply wanted to steal guns and the incident was not part of a master criminal plan.
“It was a couple of knuckleheads,” he added.
During his arraignment late Monday afternoon, Williams questioned why he was charged with receiving stolen property.
“We never touched anything,” he said. Tullytown police, though, allege they found the sheep’s head, later determined to be taken from the gun shop, on the roof, along with other tools including pruning sheers, a pick ax and sledgehammer. The items were near a hole leading into the building’s duct work.
Police arrived at the gun store shortly before 2 a.m. Monday after being alerted by the store’s security system. Initially the store appeared secure, but then police found a Ford pickup truck parked behind the shop. The truck’s rear window was shattered and the ignition was damaged, according to court documents.
Police later learned the truck’s owner noticed it was missing around 3 a.m. Monday and that he hadn’t given anyone permission to take it, court documents said.
Inside the gun store, police found a hole cut into the ceiling with damage to the ceiling tiles and extensive debris on the floor.
After the gun store owner told police he saw someone on the roof, police surrounded the building and called neighboring police departments and the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
James "Unique" Townes
Police used a public address system, calling for the suspects to turn themselves in, but there was no response, according to a probable cause affidavit. A short time later, a police officer saw someone on the roof and the South-Central Emergency Response Team was called since it was unclear if the suspect was armed.
A tactical team moved into the building, which houses four businesses. Police found no one on the roof, but heard noises above the ceiling tiles, the affidavit said. Firefighters used a special tool to pull down the drop ceiling and apprehended the men, Tullytown Chief Daniel Doyle said.
“Not one time did we hear them yell they were coming out,” Doyle added.
Williams was found first, hiding in the ceiling above a pizza restaurant next to the gun shop, police said. He was taken into custody shortly after 7:30 a.m. Police found three suspected Xanax pills and suspected marijuana in his shoe, court documents said.
Two hours later, police found Townes hiding in the ceiling above the gun store; he was taken into custody and a search found suspected marijuana on him, police said.
Store surveillance video showed Williams and Townes drive to the rear of the gun store and exit the pickup truck carrying tools and going up onto the building’s roof. Shortly before 1:30 a.m. a flashlight is seen illuminating the back room of Mike’s Guns, indicating entry had been made through the hole in the roof, according to the affidavit.
In a police interview, after he was taken into custody, Williams admitted he forced his way into the gun store intending to steal firearms, police said. Williams also admitted to stealing the sheep’s head off the gun store wall and calling 911 in an attempt to distract police, the affidavit said.
The men were arraigned late Monday afternoon before District Judge Robert Wagner Jr. wearing hospital socks after their shoes were confiscated as evidence, police said.
They are charged with burglary, conspiracy, criminal trespass, receiving stolen property, false reports and other offenses. They were sent to Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $500,000 bail each.
“Fifty thousand dollars — How is anyone supposed to get that kind of money?” Williams said, adding that he is homeless and hadn’t eaten in three days.
The police officers and constables in the courtroom responded that he would get something to eat once he arrived at Bucks County prison.
The area around the shopping center including the Levittown Parkway was shut down around 10 a.m. Automatic calls notified shopping center neighbors to shelter in place until about 8:30 a.m. The Pennsbury School District called for a two-hour delayed opening, and nearby St. Michael’s parochial school was also closed Monday.