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Published October 05 2012

Encounter in ditch leads to Clay charges linked to Valley City thefts

MOORHEAD – A man and woman from the Rochester area face charges in Clay County after authorities seized a truckload of items tied to a series of burglaries in North Dakota’s Barnes County.

Arrest warrants have been issued for Broc Allen Buytaert, 32, of St. Charles, and Betsy Lee Runkle, 31, of Rochester. Each is charged with one count of receiving stolen property.

The investigation began after sheriff’s deputies responded to rural Clay County on the morning of Sept. 1 for a report of a male stumbling through the ditches.

Buytaert was found walking in a ditch wearing only shorts and socks and “appeared to be extremely confused,” according to the complaint filed in Clay County District Court.

Deputies saw a pickup parked in a nearby tree line and found Runkle sleeping inside it. A number of items, including radiators, a generator and an air compressor, were found in the pickup’s box. Runkle told authorities the items belonged to her boyfriend, Buytaert, and that he needed them for his job, the complaint states.

Deputies impounded the pickup for fictitious registration and no insurance.

“Our guys on the scene who dealt with them the first day knew something was amiss,” Clay County Detective Jason Hicks said.

About two weeks later, investigators learned from a Cass County detective that a vehicle matching the impounded pickup had been recorded on surveillance video at a farmyard near Buffalo, N.D.

Two people in the video were “easily identified” as Buytaert and Runkle, the complaint states. The farmyard’s owner said the only thing missing was a radiator from a pickup.

Investigators checked the items in the back of the impounded pickup and weren’t able to connect them to the Buffalo farmyard, but they later linked the items to a series of burglaries and thefts near Valley City, N.D., the complaint states.

The total value of all of the items was around $5,000, Hicks said.

Four people are allegedly involved in the rash of burglaries and thefts, Hicks said. Buytaert and Runkle could also faces charges of bringing stolen property into Minnesota and fifth-degree controlled substance crime after deputies allegedly found a methamphetamine pipe with residue in the pickup, he said.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing another increase in meth use and meth arrests,” he said. “Our property crimes and violent crimes all go up because of it.”

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