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Island man charged with four counts of theft for string of burglaries on Vashon
Islander Benjamin McNair was charged Wednesday with four counts of burglary for a string of break-ins on Vashon that allegedly took place over the course of two weeks in September, according to the King County Sheriff's Office.
He and his wife Courtney Bruhn were also charged with one count of child endangerment.
McNair, 28, has an extensive criminal record and is being held in the King County Jail on $100,000 bail. Bruhn, 19, was released. She has no criminal record, according to court documents. Both are to be arraigned in King County Superior Court on Nov. 9.
According to a report filed by Det. Debby Schmitz, McNair is addicted to methamphetamine; a witness told her that both he and Bruhn smoked it in the room where their three-month-old child slept. When Schmitz entered the couple's home near Tahlequah on Oct. 22 to arrest them, she found the baby in his room asleep with pipes and other drug paraphernalia on a nearby dresser, next to baby food and formula.
The baby was removed and placed in state Child Protective Services' custody.
McNair has been charged with three residential burglaries and one that took place at Calvary Full Gospel Church. All of them took place between Sept. 8 and 19 on Wax Orchard Road or the Westside Highway, wooded, rural stretches of Vashon. He was not charged, however, for the biggest recent heist — the theft of some $30,000 in filmmaking and computer equipment from the home of two filmmakers who live on Wax Orchard Road.
After his arrest, McNair took the detective to the four locations where the burglaries had taken place but told her that a friend committed the crimes and that he was simply the driver. He received money for gas for his help, he told the detective.
"McNair said near the end of our interview that stress was the reason he was doing drugs," Schmitz added in her report. "During the interview, he said that he knew it was wrong what he was doing."
McNair and Bruhn have lived on Vashon since May. Shirley Welch, McNair's mother and an Island resident, said she's shocked by the turn of events. The young couple was living in a home she owns when they were arrested.
"We were letting them live there to help him and his wife out. They had just had the baby and needed a place to live," she said.
Welch said she knew of her son's previous convictions. "We thought he had turned a corner," she said.
Drug tests showed both Bruhn and the baby were clean, Welch added. "She's trying to get on with her life, trying to do everything the right way."
Among the items stolen from the three homes and the church were computers, a printer, a leather jacket, speakers, a microphone system and a dartboard. Several of the items have been recovered and returned to their owners.
David Rothmiller, the filmmaker whose home was burglarized in August, said he and Islander Joe Wald worked with authorities to help them make the arrest. McNair had been squatting at a home with other young Islanders near the Vashon airport when Wald, a neighbor, confronted them and forced them to leave. Several items stolen from Rothmiller and his partner LD Thompson were recovered by authorities at the house near the airport.
During the process of forcing them to leave, Wald was able to piece together some of their names, which he turned over to Rothmiller. Rothmiller, in turn, used Facebook to contact some of the players, telling them that many of the items stolen from his home still had not been returned and that he'd pay to get them back.
From those contacts, "I got a couple of responses, ... naming names," Rothmiller said. "With that, (Schmitz) was able to zero in on what was going on."
Rothmiller, however, said he remains concerned that the culprits who broke into his home apparently remain loose. "That obviously means these guys are still active on the Island, and people need to maintain vigilance," he said.
"If there were a message here, it's that if family members know a loved one is using meth, they need to turn them in — because it's going to get worse," Rothmiller added. "It's the worse drug to come down the pike. It's destroying families and destroying lives.