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Published January 16 2012

UPDATED: Homeowner alerted by motion detector chases off burglar in Casselton

CASSELTON, N.D. – At first, Steve Link and his wife didn’t think much about the beer and wine that went missing from the refrigerator in their garage around Thanksgiving.

Each thought the other had cleaned out the fridge to make room for leftovers.

But once they got their stories straight and figured out that someone had broken into their detached garage in the 200 block of Langer Avenue North, Link locked the garage’s back door and screwed it shut. On the garage’s front door, he installed a motion detector that would chime inside the house when the door was opened.

At about 2:30 a.m. Monday, Link, who was having trouble sleeping because of a cold, heard the chime.

“And so I busted down there and my wife called 911, and I get down there, and sure enough, somebody’s in the garage,” he said. “So I confront him, and he comes over and … he’s like, ‘I just was hungry.’ And then he bolted back to the door that I had screwed shut, and I thought I had him trapped, and he pulled the door open and somehow popped it open and took off running.”

Link, 35, ran back to the house to make sure his wife, Stacy, was all right, then raced south down Langer Avenue in the direction he thought the burglar had run. By that time, Cass County sheriff’s deputies had arrived.

“They didn’t catch him, but we sure put the scare into him,” Link said.

The burglar, described by Link as a younger male in his late teens, took deer jerky and Dr. Pepper from the garage, dropping one can of pop in the alley behind the garage and another down the street where he apparently slipped and fell, Link said.

A motion-activated hunting camera he had set up in the garage captured images of the burglar, but Link said he didn’t know if they would be useful because of the camera angle.

Link, a city councilman who serves on the Casselton Volunteer Fire Department, said he’s accustomed to being woken up in the middle of the night. He said he wasn’t scared during the encounter because, based on the alcohol and cooler missing from his garage, he didn’t suspect he was dealing with a “malicious-type criminal.”

“I’m a hunter and such. I wasn’t going to bust out there with my guns and knives or whatever. It wasn’t worth that. But (by) the same token, you don’t want people invading your privacy and going through your stuff,” he said, noting he has two sons at home, ages 3 and 4. “You want to nip it in the bud if you can.”

Cass County Sheriff’s Deputy Jade Van Den Einde said investigators will look at whether Monday’s incident is related to a string of recent garage burglaries in Casselton.

The sheriff’s office has received reports of about 10 garage burglaries in Casselton since November, as well as Dec. 5 burglaries at the Maple River Winery and an adjacent print shop, Chief Deputy Jim Thoreson said. A Casselton church also was hit in November.

The thieves have stolen mostly alcohol and cash from unlocked garages and, in some cases, valuables from unlocked cars in the garages, Thoreson said.

Investigators believe a group of teenagers are committing the burglaries, he said.

“We are getting closer to a handle on who’s responsible for these in Casselton,” he said. “We’ve had some community meetings, meetings with schools and juvenile court and probation officers, that kind of thing.”

In the meantime, Van Den Einde urged residents to lock their homes and garages.

Link said his garage door wasn’t locked Monday. He locks it periodically, “but it gets tough when we’re in and out,” he said.

Van Den Einde said he also advises residents not to confront burglars.

“We don’t know who we’re dealing with,” he said.

Scaring off a burglar also makes it more difficult for authorities to catch him or her in the act, he said.

Link said the ordeal was “kind of an odd situation.”

“I’m like, jeez, I didn’t know it was worth it to break in for deer jerky, but maybe it’s a pretty good recipe,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528