Police seeking four accomplices to 11 church break-ins

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comMay 15, 2014 

Preston Kennedy was fresh out of jail after his arrest on one set of charges this past January when he, an adult accomplice and three juveniles went on a spree of church break-ins, Columbus police say.

Over four months they hit at least 11 churches here and possibly others in Phenix City, where officers responding to an 12:30 a.m. alarm Tuesday caught Kennedy, 17, and an accomplice one year younger at the First Baptist Church, 2608 Summerville Road.

Officers found a broken window and open door and chased down the two suspects, who tried to run away, abandoning a Glenn Anthony Baptist Church van, stolen from Columbus, they had driven there, police said.

Because Kennedy under Alabama law is a juvenile, Phenix City police released him to his parents’ custody, authorities said. But he was not free for long.

That same day, Columbus police obtained high-resolution security camera video depicting two suspects in a Sunday burglary at Evangel Temple, 5350 Veterans Parkway. Police posted the images online, asking the public to help identify the intruders, but actually only one was unknown to them, said police Sgt. Joe Weatherford:

They recognized Kennedy immediately, Weatherford said, because they’d put him in jail in January. They just didn’t know he was out already.

They also did not know he already was back in jail, when they started hunting for him Tuesday afternoon, Weatherford said: Apparently Kennedy’s bonding company also learned their customer was wanted, again, and turned him in, authorities said. He was arrested at the jail at 12:10 p.m. Tuesday, just hours after Phenix City police released him to his parents.

Kennedy waived a preliminary hearing Thursday in Columbus Recorder’s Court, where he faced nine counts of burglary and three of auto theft, for which Judge Michael Joyner set bonds totaling $96,000.

Weatherford said Kennedy admitted the burglaries during questioning. So far police have linked him to these break-ins, the sergeant said:

• Glenn Anthony Baptist Church, 1109 39th St., on March 23.

• Happy Valley Day Facility, 3301 13th Ave., on March 23.

• The Living Word Church, 3985 Hamilton Road, on March 23.

• Wynnton Road Ministries, 3501 17th Ave., on March 23.

• Shekinah Glory Worship Center, 5878 Morningside Drive, on April 20.

• Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 3007 Howard Ave., on April 28.

• Greater Beallwood Baptist Church, 4419 Sherwood Ave., on May 7.

• Evangel Temple, 5350 Veterans Parkway, on May 11.

• Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 4400 Reese Road, on May 11.

• American Van Rental, 3501 Hamilton Road, on May 12.

• Rose Hill United Methodist Church, 2101 Hamilton Road, on May 12.

• Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministries, 2101 Hamilton Road, on May 12.

Weatherford said investigators also recovered four vehicles stolen from American Van Rental and from Glenn Anthony Baptist Church.

Police now are seeking three juveniles, including the 16-year-old caught with Kennedy in Phenix City and later released, each suspected of aiding in the break-ins, the sergeant said. Their names were not disclosed because of their ages.

Authorities also are hunting for a fourth accomplice, Reginald Weeks-Lewis, 20, Weatherford said. Anyone who knows his whereabouts is asked to call 911.

Crediting Detectives Tom Shelton and Darrell Middlebrooks with clearing the cases, the sergeant said the burglars typically took items such as flat-screen TVs, DVD players and guitars, but they also vandalized churches, sometimes emptying fire extinguishers inside. They stole fire extinguishers, too, he said.

It’s unclear how they disposed of their loot, but likely they sold it on the street or in flea markets, Weatherford said.

Kennedy previously was arrested Jan. 27 when a patrol officer saw him driving a stolen Honda Accord about 4:15 p.m. near Reese Road, police said.

He sped away when the officer tried to stop him, but police soon caught him on Woodmere Lane, where a search of the car turned up 10 grams of marijuana and a pistol reported stolen from a home in the 3600 block of 15 Avenue, they said.

The Honda had been stolen from a residence on Westbrook Drive, investigators said.

The charges for which Kennedy was booked into the jail Tuesday appear to be those resulting from this earlier arrest: first-degree burglary, second-degree burglary, auto theft, financial card theft, financial card fraud, possessing marijuana, obstructing police, driving while his license was suspended and running a stop sign.

Weatherford said Kennedy’s to face more charges in Recorder’s Court Friday at 9 a.m.

Reporter Tiffany Stevens contributed to this report.

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