Courthouse burglar charged with burglarizing safes in Dayton

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF

   A Jonesborough woman who pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the April 2000 burglary of a vault at Carter County Courthouse has been charged in the burglaries of three safes at businesses in Dayton, Tenn., and could face other charges as well, according to Dandridge Police Chief Carson Williams.
   Wendy Thomas, 23, 4419 Cherokee Road, was arrested Oct. 20 by Dandridge Police Department Ptl. Joey Knight and Ptl. Melanie Courtney and charged with public intoxication, resisting arrest and evading arrest. Upon searching Thomas's 1989 Aerostar van, officers found an assortment of tools, including a sledgehammer, chisel, drill bits and metal punches, a police scanner, a U.S. Mint bag, and an assortment of change.
   Following Thomas's arrest, she and her husband, Michael Thomas, 49, were charged in warrants by Detective Chris Sneed of Dayton Police Department with three counts each of burglary. The charges stem from the Oct. 20 burglaries of a Kentucky Fried Chicken, Papa John's and Dollar General Store in Dayton. The businesses had been broken into and the safes drilled.
   Through investigation it was learned that the Thomases stayed in a motel about 300 yards from the burglary scenes. They were tied to the burglaries through money recovered from the van and through photo identification.
   Wendy Thomas and co-defendants Charles Thomas, 2701 S. Roan St., Johnson City -- her brother in-law -- and Jeffrey Woodward, 29, formerly of Trivette Concourse, Johnson City, were sentenced in the latter part of 2000 and ordered to pay restitution of $43,500 in the courthouse burglary.
   According to court records, Elizabethton Police Department officers were called April 16, 2000, to investigate a burglary in the office of County Court Clerk Mary Gouge. Investigation revealed that the storage vault had been entered and $15,000 in currency taken along with an assortment of jewelry belonging to Gouge. Several pieces of jewelry were recovered from various individuals and were identified by Gouge.
   On April 27, 2000, Wendy Thomas was interviewed by Johnson City Police Department officers. During the interview, she admitted that on April 15, she drove Woodward and Charles Thomas to Village East Apartments near the courthouse, where she let them out of the car. She reportedly returned about two hours later to pick them up. At that time, she said, they had in their possession U.S. currency, a bank bag and assorted jewelry.
   On July 7, 2000, the three were indicted by a Carter County Grand Jury on charges of burglary and theft over $10,000.
   Charles Thomas, who pleaded guilty Oct. 18, 2000, was sentenced to three years with Tennessee Department of Correction, ordered to spend six months in jail, and pay $10,000 restitution. He was given three years' probation after serving out a sentence on prior charges in Georgia. He is scheduled to appear Dec. 17 in Carter County Criminal Court for a probation revocation hearing for failure to pay restitution.
   Wendy Thomas pleaded guilty in December 2000 to burglary and theft over $10,000. She received 15 years' probation and was ordered to serve 60 days in jail on work release. She currently is being held in Rhea County Jail.
   Woodward, who reportedly cooperated with state prosecutors, pleaded guilty in January, received a total effective sentence of three years, and was granted probation. He died July 11 at his residence of an apparent drug overdose, according to law enforcement officials.
   Michael Thomas is still at large. He is described as a white male, 5 feet, 9 inches tall, weighing 150 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.