The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Security camera at city hall helps nab burglar

Suspect in auto theft spotted stealing tablet from fire department


The fire department’s security was not so hot last week.

Valdez police discovered an unreported theft at the fire department that was uncovered during a police investigation into a not-so routine auto theft. In an unrelated case the same day, a Glennallen man was discovered to have been allegedly sleeping inside the fire department, possibly for an extended stay.

The saga began a week ago Tuesday morning when Valdez police received a call that a 2006 silver Subaru Forrester had been stolen from the driveway of a Mendeltna St. residence.

According to Bill Comer, Valdez Police Chief, auto thefts by strangers are fairly rare in Valdez. Occasional reports of stolen vehicles generally turn out to be borrowed – with or without permission - by friends or relatives and criminal prosecutions are even rarer.

This auto theft did not fit that profile.

Comer said the police dispatcher had remembered a man who had been rousted by police several times for sleeping on a bench inside city hall, so they decided to look at footage from city hall surveillance cameras to see if that might be their guy.

“That’s when we saw the video of the other guy,” Comer said.

The security cameras showed an unidentified male, probably intoxicated, entering the fire department at about 4 a.m. that morning, then reemerging with a tablet, a small handheld computer.

“We did all this in hindsight,” Comer said. “It gave us an idea of what his description was.”

Police were able to extract a photo of the man and began looking for the suspect by canvassing local businesses. The investigation led to Silver Bay Seafoods, where a manager identified the man in the photo extract as Andrei Rugamas. Police also found the stolen Subaru parked out of view of the street.

“Bart (Hinkle) found the stolen vehicle,” Comer said. “The guy had been drinking – a lot.”

After interviewing the suspect, who admitted to stealing the Subaru and driving it while drunk, a cache of narcotic prescription drugs, adderall and oxycontin pills, were found. Only Rugamas did not have a prescription.

Police also recovered an IMac computer that had allegedly been stolen from Anadyr Adventures late last month.

Rugamas, age 32 of Missouri, was still behind bars this Monday, charged with four felony thefts charges, two felony counts of misconduct involving a controlled substance, and misdemeanor charges including theft, driving under the influence, and driving without a license. His bail is set at $10,000.

Comer said the tablet stolen from the fire department had not yet been recovered as of Monday afternoon.

Later that same Tuesday morning, Stephen Tirado, age 24 of Glennallen, was arrested after police allege he was discovered sleeping in the attic of the fire department – wearing stolen clothing.

“He actually had a fire department t-shirt on,” Comer said.

Tirado was charged with criminal trespass and theft before being transported to jail in Anchorage.

“Just good old-fashioned police work,” Comer said of the unusual case, which was investigated by Lt. Hinkle and Andrew Pritchett

In a prepared statement issued by the police department last week, Comer noted that in the case of the auto theft and Anadyr and fire department burglaries, doors had been left unlocked, as is often the case in Valdez. Comer said that while Valdez is a safe small town, routine security measures such as locking doors and not leaving keys in parked vehicles lessens the chance of being victimized.


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