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Burglar hunted in convenience store thefts

Chuck Biedka
| Wednesday, July 28, 2004

TARENTUM -- Police are searching for a burglar and a woman who may have served as his driver/lookout who officials think hit two Valley convenience stores in two days.

Allegheny County detectives believe the burglar jimmied open a door at the Orris Express store along Freeport Road in Springdale Township early Monday.

"He pried open a door on the side and turned off the surveillance camera," county Detective Lewis Prestera said.

The burglar took cigarettes, lighters, lottery tickets and about $300, Prestera said.

"He cut the phone line and tried to get into an ATM, but couldn't," he added.

No one was seen in that incident, authorities said.

But they are working under the assumption that the same person or people tried the same thing early the following morning on what amounts to the same stretch of road less than four miles away.

At about 4:45 a.m. Tuesday, a man was spotted just outside the Exxon store at the foot of the Tarentum Bridge.

The man, wearing gloves, was standing outside the rear store door when a Tarentum police officer saw him.

Officer Robert Lang saw the man cradling boxes of cigarettes and holding lottery tickets, Chief Bill Vakulick said.

The man said essentially told Lang that he was a store employee.

But as Lang started to get out of his car, the man ran.

"He jumped over a fence and ran along Sixth Avenue," Vakulick said.

The man left clues where he went, police said. Detectives said the man apparently dropped a glove there.

Eventually the man made his way onto the adjacent railroad tracks because police found lottery tickets they think he dropped.

Officials said a second person, a woman, appeared to be watching from a parked car when Lang saw the burglar.

He may have lost his ride when Lang disrupted the burglary.

Police learned that a man fitting the suspect's description walked into the Hometown Restaurant on Fourth Avenue at about 6:30 a.m.

"He bought a Pepsi and then he asked if anyone would take him to New Kensington. He said he had $25 for anyone who would take him there," said owner Rebecca Coy.

"He said his car had broken down on Route 28 and his feet hurt from walking all morning," she added. However, the man reportedly also told other people he had just missed a bus.

Police believe someone gave the man a ride to New Kensington or Arnold.

Authorities are also looking for a young woman who may have been the man's lookout and intended transportation.

"There was a possible look-out in a maroon Dodge Intrepid," Vakulick said.

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