EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 3, 2013

Man charged in 'four-town crime spree'

By Jo-Anne MacKenzie

---- — SALEM — Police charged a Chelmsford man with multiple offenses after a “four-town crime spree” Tuesday, Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten said.

Police arrested 11 people Tuesday, six of them drug related, he said, something he is seeing more of every day.

The arrest of James Slater, 23, of Chelmsford was the most dramatic.

It started when a Toyota Matrix was stolen in Andover Tuesday morning, Patten said. That car was used in the theft of baby formula in Chelmsford and Nashua later in the day, according to Patten.

Chelmsford police issued a “be-on-the-lookout” alert at 2 p.m. for the Matrix. Just 30 minutes later, Salem K-9 Officer Paul Benoit spotted the car pulling out of the Market Basket plaza onto Rockingham Park Boulevard, Patten said.

Benoit managed to pull up beside the car and force it to pull over.

The Matrix stopped, but the driver dove out of the passenger side window and took off, Patten said.

Benoit and Officer Matt MacKenzie gave chase and caught Slater at a nearby fence line.

Slater was combative, Patten said, but the officers were able to take him into custody. They determined Slater had just stolen baby formula from Market Basket, although store employees were unaware of the theft.

Police reviewed store surveillance video and saw Slater leave the store without paying for the formula, Patten said.

After nabbing Slater, police found a lot of jewelry inside the stolen car, items police believe were stolen, too, Patten said. Yesterday, detectives continued their investigation and were seeking a search warrant for the car, he said.

Slater is charged with a felony count of receiving stolen property; willful concealment, third offense, also a felony; resisting arrest; disobeying a police officer; and driving after revocation.

He was held on $25,000 cash bail. He was still listed as an inmate at the county jail yesterday afternoon.

“The guys did a great job,” Patten said. “Chelmsford puts out a BOLO and less than 30 minutes later, we’re pulling him over.”

He said Salem police are working with police in the other three communities.

“I think it’s safe to say he’s in the throes of drug addiction,” Patten said of Slater.

That’s not unusual in Salem these days.

“We’ve seen a huge spike this year in drug activity and drug-related crime,” he said. “Any theft-related crime we have, a high percentage is directly linked to drugs, and we see a lot of theft. It’s the same everywhere.”

A lot of addicts, although not all, may start out with prescription painkillers, he said, drugs for which a doctor prescribed the medication.

“We’ve had people come through here who were robbing banks, who had been on prescription painkillers for a long time, then were taken off and then cascaded into illicit drugs,” Patten said. “Some people start out recreational use.”

When prescription drugs are no longer available legally or are too expensive illegally, he said, many of those people turn to heroin.

It’s not only while investigating theft cases that police are coming across illegal drugs, he said, but also during routine traffic stops.

Such was the case Tuesday when six people were arrested on felony drug charges after three traffic stops.

“These people were stopped either for suspicious activity or a motor vehicle infraction,” Patten said. “Upon interaction with them, officers determined they had drugs.”

Just before noon, Danielle Wittkowski, 25, of Salem was stopped and arrested on felony counts for possession of a controlled drug, crack; possession of a controlled drug, heroin; and transportation of a controlled drug.

Just past 1 p.m., police made two more arrests during a traffic stop. Denise Griffin, 47, of Nashua was charged with felony possession of heroin and transportation of a controlled drug.

Also charged was Elizabeth Poste, 26, of Nashua. She faces a felony charge for possession of heroin, She also had an outstanding bench warrant.

Just before 10 p.m., three Hudson men were arrested in a single traffic stop.

Nathan Lounsbury, 22, was charged with felony possession of heroin.

George Dimitros, 25, was charged with felony possession of heroin, transportation of a controlled drug, driving after revocation and driving an unregistered motor vehicle.

Kyle Goguen, 26, was charged with felony possession of heroin.