Burglary suspect faces widening investigation
Man arrested after car chase, crash in county
February 13, 2013
A suspected burglar arrested following a chase and crash in Butler County last weekend is under investigation by seven police departments in two counties for a string of daylight break-ins dating back to September. Douglas J. Wetzel could be responsible for home burglaries in Adams, Cranberry, Donegal, Middlesex and Penn townships in Butler County, and Pine and West Deer townships in Allegheny County, authorities said. Wetzel, 28, who is homeless, remains in the Butler County Prison on $150,000 bail. He was already out on bail while awaiting a preliminary hearing on charges that he burglarized an Adams Township home in December when he was arrested again Feb. 2. During the Adams Township police investigation, Wetzel emerged as a suspect in additional burglaries in neighboring municipalities, police officials said. According to court documents, he and an accomplice, William W. Harris II, 25, of Valencia, on Dec. 10 broke into a house on Shoup Road in Adams. Police said the pair took jewelry, including a gold wedding band, and electronics. By the next day, Wetzel was already a suspect. Police said they traced some of the stolen jewelry to a Butler area gold store where he had allegedly traded the items for $272. Wetzel during a police interview, documents said, admitted that he and Harris broke into the house. Both men were arraigned Dec. 11 on burglary, theft and conspiracy charges, and jailed. But Wetzel was released that same day after posting $10,000 bail. During his police interview, investigators said, Wetzel had disclosed there was more stolen property in a storage unit in Butler Township that he was renting. A search of that unit turned up numerous items believed to have been taken in other burglaries in southern Butler County and northern Allegheny County. The finding helped connect Wetzel to a December break-in at a home in the 300 block of West Cruikshank Road in Middlesex Township. Investigators suspect he used a brick to smash in a glass door in back of the house. Once inside, he stole about 50 items, mostly jewelry, said Middlesex Township police officer Randy Ruediger. Some of that jewelry eventually turned up at a Butler pawn shop. Wetzel, during an interview Tuesday, confessed to that burglary and another break-in about two weeks earlier in Penn Township’s Renfrew section, Ruediger said. “He wanted to clear things up,” Ruediger said of Wetzel’s admission. “He said he was having financial problems and he needed money.” Police in Middlesex and Penn both plan Monday to charge Wetzel with burglary and theft. Northern Regional Police Chief Bob Amann said his department also would likely file similar charges sometime soon. Amann said Wetzel is suspected in the Sept. 13 burglary of a house in Pine Township, Allegheny County. He allegedly broke out a rear window to get inside. “He took a large amount of jewelry,” Amann said. Some of that jewelry was sold at gold stores and pawn shops. “We identified (Wetzel) as a suspect working with Adams Township police and West Deer Township police,” Amann said. While Wetzel is suspected in a home burglary in West Deer, no charges have been filed. Police there could not be reached Friday. Wetzel is also being looked at in connection with a Nov. 26 burglary of a house in Cranberry Township. “He has not been ruled out as a suspect in one of our burglaries,” Cranberry Township Police Sgt. Chuck Mascellino said. Wetzel’s latest arrest came after state police, responding to a burglary-in-progress call, nabbed him Feb. 2 but not before he led troopers on a several-mile chase that started in Donegal Township, court documents said. The pursuit ended in Concord Township shortly after 3 p.m. when he lost control of his pickup and crashed. Wetzel and his alleged accomplice, Thomas E. Snyder, 24, of Butler, who was riding in the pickup, took off running but troopers quickly caught them. District Judge Lewis Stoughton later arraigned both on a list of charges stemming from the chase and the burglary that day. Snyder remains in the county jail on $100,000 bail. Police allege that the pair broke into an East Slippery Rock Road house in Donegal about 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The homeowners’ son arrived at the house soon after and caught the men inside. The suspects drove away in Wetzel’s pickup as the son called police. They made off with silverware and jewelry, which was later recovered at the end of the chase.