Between the scrappy vigilance of a county park employee, law enforcement’s investigative methods and cooperation among agencies in the county, veteran felon Ronald Schmitt of Flagler Beach did not have much of a chance Tuesday.
That morning, Ryan Belhumeur, a Flagler County parks employee, was working his rounds at Wadsworth Park when he noticed a blue van parked suspiciously behind a dumpster at the northeast end of the park. He approached the van. He noticed a man, later identified as Schmitt, 56, of Connecticut Avenue in Flagler Beach, loading bleachers onto his truck.
The county lines up those bleachers along nearby soccer, football and baseball fields when children and adolescents have competitive games. Otherwise they’re stored parallel to a soccer field, at the northeast end of the park. It’s a bit of an out-of-the-way area, at least when the fields aren’t being used.
When Belhumeur confronted Schmitt, telling him the bleachers belong to the park and that he should stop, Schmitt just sniffed in an oh-yeah? sort of way, loaded yet another bench onto the truck, and drove off. Belhumeur tried to cut off the van, but Schmitt maneuvered around him, according to the description of the incident Belhumeur gave authorities.
Schmitt is a felon several times over, though the first time he was found guilty of a felony, in 2015, the judge withheld adjudication. He had stolen an $800, 100-pound propeller from a Palm Coast resident’s property, which he then sold in St. Augustine. The next two times Schmitt was charged with a felony, for cocaine possession, he was adjudicated guilty and twice served jail sentences, the last time for a probation violation last year.
After driving around Belhumeur at Wadsworth Park, Schmitt did not bank on Belhumeur’s photographic memory. Belhumeur, who’ll be 38 at the end of September, a three-year employee with the county, contacted law enforcement. Tara Coleman, a crime analyst at the sheriff’s Real Time Crime Center reported to the investigative officer that Belhumeur provided a detailed description of the suspect’s vehicle, enabling her to possibly identifying it using License Plate Reader (LPR) technology. The vehicle was spotted on State Road 100. It was a 1996 Ford Windstar.
The vehicle’s license plate was entered into the LPR system, which issues alerts whenever a given license plate crosses an LPR’s line of sight. An alert was issued at 10:17 a.m. as the van traveled south on U.S. 1 and Belle Terre Parkway, giving cops an area to search.
The van was found at John’s Auto Parts on U.S. 1–a scrap yard, where patrons can bring metal and aluminium products to recycle, in exchange for cash. Schmitt was there. Aaron Beausoleil, a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy, had spotted the van and detained Schmitt. Soon Flagler Beach police brought Belhumeur to the same location, where the park employee identified the man who’d earlier fled with the benches. Belhumeur did so with 100 percent certainty.Schmitt told police he thought the benches were garbage and claimed he was taking them out of a dumpster–a very difficult thing to do, considering that the dumpster is on the other side of a fence, and that the benches were clearly arrayed along the woodline. Schmitt said he then “left like an idiot.” As it turnes out, he may have taken more than the two that were in his truck: the park was missing four more, each valued at $600 by a park supervisor, according to Schmitt’s arrest report.
Schmitt denied taking those. All he knew about were the two bleachers in his van. He had cut the bleachers, destroying them. Flagler Beach Police Officer Guy Cozzone, who conducted the investigation, soon discovered that Schmitt had delivered the four other benches on Sept. 2. When confronted again, Schmitt owned up to doing so, then argued that since police were getting the bleachers back, there should be no charges. That’s not how it works, the officer told him before charging him with a felony count of criminal mischief for destroying benches, and two counts of grand theft for stealing them. The benches in Schmitt’s vehicle were returned to Belhumeur.
The county is pursuing charges. Schmitt was booked at the Flagler County jail on $7,500 bond. Roger’s Towing took possession of the van. Schmitt remains at the county jail as of the initial publication of this article Thursday.
“Don’t steal bleachers from Wadsworth Park when my son is working,” Rick Belhumeur, the recently “de-commissioned” Flagler Beach City Commissioner (as he likes to put it) said below the Flagler Beach police’s account of the theft on its Facebook page. “He will say something when he sees something and with his photographic memory, cameras, license plate readers and our local law enforcement teaming up, your chances of getting away with it are slim!”
Schmitt was charged with two (2) counts of Felony Grand Theft, and one (1) count of Felony Criminal Mischief. The suspect was booked into the Sheriff Perry Hall Inmate Detention Facility under $7,500 bond.
“The successful outcome of this case is a great example on multiple fronts” Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney said as he credited Belhumeur (the son, not the father) and law enforcement’s “teamwork.” “By working hard, working smart and working together, we collectively were able to locate and arrest a felony suspect in a little over two hours,” he said in a release.