Ocean View storm patrol yields suspects in substantial burglary sting

Two local residents were arrested this week in connection with a string of burglaries plaguing the area for the last year. Jake Fox, 22, of Dagsboro and Heidi Hitchens, 24, of Frankford were recently arrested and charged with burglaries and thefts reported in the Ocean View area over the last several weeks and this week were charged with additional crimes in the Frankford, Millville, Ocean View and Bethany Beach areas dating back to November 2011.

Ocean View Police Department Sgt. Heath Hall said the two suspects were caught while OVPD Sgt. Sidney Ballentine was on storm patrol during Hurricane Sandy.

“How it all unraveled was, one of our officers was essentially on storm patrol in Savannah’s Landing… The vehicle caught his eye. It was looking a little bit suspicious. He recognized one person in the vehicle by face.”

After recognizing Hitchens, Hall said, Ballentine ran a computer inquiry and found there was a warrant out for her arrest from the Delaware State Police, issued Oct. 24, for three counts of Issuing a Bad Check.

“The male party was also wanted,” said Hall. “Subsequently, they were taken into custody for their outstanding warrants.”

Following their arrest, a search of Hitchens’ vehicle uncovered items that had been reported as stolen.

“A search of the vehicle revealed items in the car that linked them to area crimes,” said Hall.

The Ocean View Police Department then conducted an extensive search, which included officers going door-to-door on foot, checking homes, during which they eventually found an open window on Judith’s Turn at 1 a.m. on Oct. 29.

“They were actually coming from a burglary that they had just perpetrated when Sgt. Ballentine found them,” said Hall.

Following the discovery of the open window, the department contacted the homeowners, who were out of town, and confirmed that silverware and other items recovered in Hitchens’ vehicle were, in fact, stolen from their Ocean View home.

The OVPD also contacted the DSP and the Bethany Beach Police Department regarding the arrests, as neighboring areas have also had recent incidents of burglaries.

Police said this week that they had connected Fox and Hitchens to burglaries dating back to November of 2011. They said the crimes entailed the suspects entering unoccupied homes and removing items ranging from jewelry, televisions and electronic devices to cash and even prescription medications. Most of the items were then taken to local pawn shops in exchange for cash, according to the DSP.

Hitchens was initially charged with crimes including Burglary 3rd, Possession of Burglary Tools, Conspiracy 2nd and Theft of Services and was later released on unsecured bond. Upon agencies completing their investigations into the numerous burglaries in southern Sussex County, Hitchens was charged Nov. 12 with an additional 25 charges ranging from Burglary 2nd and Felony Theft to Conspiracy and Criminal Trespass.

Initial charges against Fox included Burglary 3rd, Possession of Burglary Tools, Conspiracy 2nd and Theft of Services. DSP detectives said they were able to locate more than 20 victims of the crimes allegedly committed by the couple and on Nov. 7, additionally charged Fox with 112 counts ranging from Burglary 2nd and Felony Theft to Conspiracy and Criminal Trespass.

“The state police alone charged them with over 100 charges,” said Hall this week, noting that Fox alone had been charged with more than 100 charges. “That gives you an idea of how prevalent — to put it in layman’s terms, they thought they were children in a candy store.”

Hall said the rash of crimes could be linked to an increase in drug use in the area.

“It’s no secret there is a heroine epidemic in the lower part of Sussex County right now,” he said. “We just had an incident the other night where we were given information where someone stated they were doing 13 bags of heroin a day, and they were within a hardball’s throw of the police department.”

Hitchens was released this week on $9,700 unsecured bond, pending arraignment in the Court of Common Pleas. Fox was committed to the Sussex County Correctional Institute for lack of $63,100 secured bond.