Hours after thieves broke into the Mountain Center Market and took the ATM machine, two men were arrested on Highway 74, just west of the Forest Service’s Cranston Ranger Station.
The break-in occurred during the early morning hours of Monday, Sept. 14, and the security cameras, which owner Shane Stewart has in all of his locations, were instrumental in the arrest.
According to the cameras’ recordings, the thieves attempted an initial break-in about 3 a.m., but could not get past the door, even with the use of a sledge hammer. Since the door was not breached, this attempt did not trigger an alarm.
About an hour later, they were recorded driving past the market again and studying whether an alarm had been activated. After scouting the site, they returned and, this time tied a rope to the door and pulled it off with their SUV.
They entered the market and without hesitation went to the ATM, tied the rope around it and pulled it out of the market and loaded it into their vehicle.
Apparently, they took it to McGaugh Road, where they broke into it and took the cash. The machine was found there.
Breaking the door on the second attempt triggered the alarm to Stewart, who quickly reviewed the recording and provided the Sheriff’s Department with accurate description of the burglars, their vehicle and the direction they headed from the market. This information was provided to Stewart’s from his security equipment.
As they were driving to Hemet, a deputy recognized the vehicle, pulled it over and arrested two men. There may be a third person involved, according to Hemet Station Capt. Lyndon Wood.
According to Stewart, there have been more than 20 similar ATM incidents at small convenience stores throughout Southern California. But it was this one that helped the sheriff’s deputies nab the suspects.
The state-of-art security cameras record very detailed pictures, which can be reviewed remotely. The recordings are available from servers in Los Angeles, rather than stored on-site, according to Stewart.
The market remained open and the ATM machine was replaced by Monday afternoon, according to Stewart.
Sheriff’s deputies arrested Nickolas Melendez, 26, of Cabazon, and Ryan Mason, 24, of Hemet, for second degree burglary. Both were taken to the Larry D. Smith Correctional facility.