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Burglary spree hits home for Columbia County DA

Atchison reports theft of jewelry, cash from house in middle of afternoon


by: SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Steve Atchison.Steve Atchison, district attorney for Columbia County, knows a thing or two about crime. As the top prosecutor in the county, it is his business to present the state’s case against accused criminals and work to keep offenders off the streets.

But on Thursday, June 19, Atchison had a different encounter with crime: he became one of the latest victims of a string of home burglaries in the St. Helens area.

About $12,000 in cash and property was stolen from the Atchison home on Sykes Road in St. Helens, according to St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss.

Atchison said his wife’s jewelry, including her wedding ring, was among the items taken.

“Whoever it was was probably watching, because I was at work, and my wife left for a doctor’s appointment at 3 [p.m.], and that’s when it happened,” said Atchison.

The St. Helens area has seen a spike in the burglary incidence rate since early May that has left law enforcement officials scratching their heads. It is unclear how the burglaries may be related, who might be committing them or how the culprits avoid being caught.

“One of the biggest problems we face is in a lot of property crime cases, we are hampered by a lack of physical evidence and a lack of witnesses,” Moss said.

Police arrested transient Juan Jorge Ramon Rosales-Emanuel in connection with a break-in on Grey Cliffs Drive on June 13. Moss said the burglaries appeared to stop after that — but the halt was short-lived.

“For a couple days, we didn't have anything, and we sort of thought, 'Is there a connection?'” said Moss. “But when they started up again, we [realized] that was wishful thinking.”

Atchison said he believes about 50 to 60 burglaries have been reported in the past several weeks.

He said of the burglary at his own house, “I'm not making a big deal of it, just because I'm no different than anybody else.”

The Columbia County Sheriff's Office and St. Helens Police Department are offering a $1,000 reward for “specific, credible” information that leads to the arrest and conviction of any burglars in the St. Helens area.

“We want this to stop,” Moss said. “This is probably one of the most significant crime sprees like this we've seen in a long, long time.”

Editor's note: A shorter version of this story appeared in the June 27, 2014, issue of the Spotlight.