By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
An Atmore man, apparently knowledgeable about vehicle electronics but apparently not a very good driver, was arrested Monday at a local coin laundry after he reportedly stole the headlights from an Atmore Christian School bus.
Police Chief Chuck Brooks reported that 41-year-old Dennis Dean Sothman of a Poarch Road address was taken into custody after an observant patrol officer noticed a Chevy van with a distinctive décor parked at Suds-N-Duds on West Nashville Avenue. The van was identical to the one caught by surveillance cameras at Atmore Christian, which is less than a mile from the laundry.
The officer stopped to investigate, found some of the stolen property — including the two high-grade LED headlights, which are valued at $250 each — inside the van, and an arrest was made without incident.
Brooks said Sothman was set to be transferred Tuesday, February 9, from the city lockup to the Escambia County Detention Center, where he will be charged with one count each of third-degree theft of property, unauthorized use of a vehicle, third-degree criminal mischief and breaking and entering a vehicle.
Jerry Gehman, who chairs the school’s board of directors, said the suspect had problems getting to the eventual crime scene.
“At some time after midnight on Monday, he hit a fire hydrant with his vehicle, and the rear tire was hung up on the hydrant.” Gehman related. “He removed the headlights and the light switch from our 1996 Kodiak bus, then he spent about 25 minutes siphoning all the gas out of the school’s van.”
Sothman also hooked a cable to the bus and winched his vehicle off the fire hydrant, then damaged some crossties in the school parking lot as he made his getaway.
The ACS board chair said most of the stolen property was recovered by police, but Sothman left a bit of a mess behind. He also left behind the cable, a crescent wrench and a hubcap.
“The police did an excellent job; one officer stayed and gathered evidence while the other looked for the van,” Gehman said. “We got our headlights back, even though he damaged the shrouds, and we got the light switch back, but we didn’t get the $25 or so worth of gas back. Now we have to figure out how we’re going to fix our bus.”