Slideshow: Top 20 odd police beat stories of 2013

January 30, 2014 12:00 am  • 

A collection of strange Tucson police beat stories selected by the Star's cop reporters.

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  • A Sierra Vista convenience store became a drive-through Thursday when a woman let her 10-year-old daughter get behind the wheel of the family sedan.

    Linda Morales, 31, was in the car and allowed her daughter to drive their 1999 Plymouth Breeze to the Circle K at 95 Rainbow Way, Cpl. Scott Borgstadt, spokesman for the Sierra Vista Police Department, said in a news release. The pre-teen successfully — though illegally — navigated the streets on the quarter-mile drive to the store, but once in the parking lot, she mistook the gas for the brake, and drove the car through the plateglass windows.

    Fortunately, no one in the store or in the car was injured.

    “The store front had excessive damage to the front doors and support beams. Per Sierra Vista Police Department procedures when a structure suffers extensive damage a city of Sierra Vista building inspector is called to assess the damage,” Borgstadt said. “Upon inspection, the business was deemed unsafe for occupation and closed for maintenance. Circle K’s maintenance crews worked throughout the night and had the damage repaired enough to open the store at 6 a.m. Friday.”

    Morales was cited and released on scene for allowing an unauthorized minor to drive.

  • In what the judge and defense attorney agree is a unique case, a Tucson woman was sentenced to five years' probation and 200 hours of community service Monday for shooting her husband in the mouth, possibly twice.

    On June 8, police found Douglas Nemeth sitting on a bed holding bandages to his face, according to court documents. Investigators determined he was sleeping on his side when he was shot twice in the mouth and suffered a broken vertebra in his neck, a broken jaw and several broken teeth.

    Vicki Jo Nemeth, 66, told officers she and her husband had gotten into an argument because she'd recently obtained a credit card against his wishes. When he fell asleep, she decided to remove the bullets from his .38 revolver, but the gun accidentally discharged twice, court documents state.

    Nemeth was indicted June 28 on four counts of aggravated assault and one count of attempted first-degree murder.

    She pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon last month, and could have received between 3 1/2 and 8 3/4 years in prison.

    On Monday, Douglas Nemeth told Pima County Superior Court Judge Scott Rash that his wife had "no intention whatsoever" of hurting him. She nursed him back to health after he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma and should get unsupervised probation, he said.

    Defense attorney Brad Roach submitted 15 character letters on behalf of his client, who has been married to her husband 46 years and has four children with him.

    Vicki Nemeth knows nothing about guns and hadn't touched one since her husband returned from the Korean War, Roach said.

    A tearful Vicki Nemeth told the judge she is remorseful and things are fine between she and her husband.

    The judge cited Vicki Nemeth's remorse, family and community support and lack of criminal history when placing her on probation.

    "The incident definitely seems out of character," Rash said.

    While on probation, Vicki Nemeth must continue to receive mental health treatment and work part time.

    Court documents indicate she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder late last year.

    On StarNet: Follow the news and events in Kim Smith's blog, At the Courthouse, at azstarnet.com/courthouse

    Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or kimsmith@azstarnet.com

  • A woman at a midtown apartment complex was arrested Tuesday after she tried to take out a SWAT tactical robot with a microwave oven.

    Police were called to the Palm Court Inn, 4425 E. 22nd Street at 11:35 a.m. after tenants reported hearing gunshots coming from one of the apartments. Earlier that morning the complex manager tried to evict a man living in the apartment. After a confrontation, the manager left, and that’s when neighbors reported hearing gunshots, Sgt. Chris Widmer, spokesman for the Tucson Police Department, said.

    Officers arrived at the complex and saw a woman breaking out window glass from inside apartment with what appeared to be a shotgun, they evacuated the other residents, Widmer said.

    When the man and woman refused to leave the apartment, a tactical robot equipped with a camera was sent in so SWAT members could see what was happening inside.

    Just after 1 p.m., “as the robot approached the door, the woman exited with a microwave and threw it at robot,” Widmer said.

    She missed.

    Before she could duck back into the apartment, SWAT members grabbed her. The man in the apartment then surrendered, Widmer said.

    The investigation is ongoing and charges are pending.

  • The rack is back.

    A custom metal sculpture bike rack stolen from a new Tucson business last week has been returned.

    An article in the Arizona Daily Star on Thursday included a photo of the missing rack, which weighs about 1,000 pounds and is valued at $8,500.

    At about 9:30 a.m. Thursday, a man called Bike Shop Hub to say he had taken the rack.

    "He showed up 45 minutes later, a young, scrappy-looking guy. He had this kind of beat-up pickup and his mom was with him," said Josh Lipton, president of Bike Shop Hub. "He told us he put it in the truck himself. It looked like he just dragged it into his truck."

    The man, in his 20s, "said he saw it on the side of the road," Lipton said. He "brought it back and 'fessed up, so we didn't really give him a hard time. We didn't really press him on his story. He told one of my employees he thought we were out of business and we were leaving it there. He apologized and he even kind of said something like, 'I hope this makes you feel better about being in Tucson.' He seemed like a nice guy, so we couldn't be too mad at him."

    Lipton and his staff moved their online retail business from Flagstaff to Tucson earlier this month. They off-loaded the rack April 15 and left it outside their warehouse at 2801 N. Flowing Wells Road for several hours while they finished moving into their new 4,000-square-foot space. They planned to lock up the bike rack before leaving for the night, but before they could, it disappeared.

    "It was a little bit scratched on the back, but fortunately it didn't get damaged on the front, visible side," Lipton said.

    The utilitarian sculpture made up of large, stylized bicycle parts - tire rim, spokes, sprocket, chain, gears - will remain inside the warehouse, Lipton said, until they can decide the most secure way to mount it to the building's exterior.

    Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at kmatas@azstarnet.com or at 573-4191.

  • Two people trying to smuggle drugs inside their underwear were arrested by border officers this week in separate incidents.

    On Wednesday afternoon agents say they found a pound of methamphetamine inside the underpants of an 18-year-old U.S. citizen who was riding in a border shuttle van stopped for an inspection at a checkpoint on Interstate 19 near Amado, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a news release.

    On Thursday night a 23-year-old U.S. citizen was arrested at the  Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales after officers say they found four pounds of heroin in her bra.

    The combined estimated street value of the narcotics is $70,000, the release said.

  • If a stranger calls on the phone, says you won a big pile of money, and all you have to do to claim it is send them money, just say NO!

    The Oro Valley Police Department Criminal Investigations Unit is investigating a case where an individual called the victim claiming to be a detective with the OVPD, Lt. Kara Riley, spokeswoman for the OVPD, said in a news release. The caller told the victim she was the recipient of a large sum of money as a result of an insurance settlement with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and she needed to send money to ensure the delivery of her claim.

    The phone number the suspect called from indicated it was from the Oro Valley Police Department; however, no such calls were made.

    Recently, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department received multiple reports of a similar scam.

    “Scams of this nature are a common occurrence, and citizens are encouraged to be cautious when speaking with subjects offering them money, goods or services they did not legitimately order when cash payment is requested prior to receipt,” Riley said.

    In cases where contact is made over the telephone or electronic media, the OVPD encourages citizens to contact the police department to confirm the identity of the person claiming to be a police officer, detective or deputy.

    Anyone with information on this investigation or has received such a phone call or email should report to 911 or 88-CRIME.

  • An attempt to salvage a soggy roll of toilet paper will end up costing someone several hundred dollars.

    Fire crews were called Saturday afternoon to a Foothills senior living complex in the 1500 block of East River Road when a smoke alarm was triggered, Capt. Barrett Baker, spokesman for the Tucson Fire Department, said.

    Someone had put a wet roll of toilet paper in the microwave. It began to burn and filled the apartment with smoke, causing several hundreds dollars in damage.

    Between 2006 and 2010 there were about 7,300 structure fires in the United States in which a microwave oven was involved in the ignition, Baker said, citing a statistic from the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association.

    Usually, Baker said, when they receive 911 calls involving microwaves, it is because someone was scalded by food. This is the first time he’s heard of a mishap involving a microwave and toilet paper.

  • Border officers at the Lukeville crossing made a big bust this week, taking down a smuggler in a “queso” cheese trafficking.

    During questioning the van’s driver fessed up to carrying a load — some five keys of cheese.

    Instead of 11 pounds, however, border agriculture inspectors uncovered about 223 pounds of cheese hidden throughout the van, according to a news release from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

    “The concealed, unpasteurized ruminant cheese was seized for not meeting import requirements” the release says.

    The news release did not provide a value estimate for the cheese. The unidentified man was cut loose with a fine.

  • A man was taken to a Tucson hospital Friday morning with non-life-threatening injuries suffered when he tried to drag a burning couch out of his living room.

    Firefighters arrived at the home in the 4600 block of East Timrod Street, near East Broadway and North Swan Road within three minutes of receiving a 911 call just before 10 a.m., Capt. Chris Jurvig, spokesman for the Tucson Fire Department, said in a news release.

    “A resident of the home had tried to remove and extinguish a couch that had caught fire in the living room,” Jurvig said. “Fire crews quickly deployed hose lines into the home to attack the fire and search for victims.”

    It took 23 firefighters from nine units seven minutes to bring the fire under control.

    “Fire crews were able to contain the fire to the room of origin and keep it from spreading throughout the home,” Jurvig said.

    The fire was caused by an electrical malfunction and caused an estimated $15,000 in damage.

  • A 4-year-old child playing with matches started a fire that destroyed a mobile home and car on the southside Thursday.

    No one was hurt in the blaze.

    The fire was started by the child in a car parked in the carport, and the blaze then spread to the mobile home, said Capt. Barrett Baker, a Tucson Fire Department spokesman.

    Tucson firefighters were dispatched at 7:36 p.m. to the fire in the 5200 block of South Campbell Avenue.

    The car was fully involved in flames, and about 25 percent of the mobile home was on fire, Baker said.

    Crews prevented the fire from spreading to three other mobile homes.

    Twenty-two firefighers brought the fire under control in about 30 minutes, Baker said.

    The Southern Arizona Chapter of the American Red Cross assisted the family.

    The mobile home was condemned by city building safety inspectors, Baker said.

    Damage was estimated at $60,000.

  • PHOENIX - A doctor surgically removed a 1-pound package of methamphetamine from a woman's pelvic area after she tried to smuggle the drugs into Arizona from Mexico, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman said Friday.

    Claudia Ibarra, 31, was taken into custody this week at the Port of San Luis after federal officers suspected the bizarre smuggling attempt. She crossed the border alone and on foot, and is a U.S. citizen from Yuma.

    Ibarra was searched at the border and then taken to a nearby medical facility, where the doctor found and removed the drug package. She was stopped after exhibiting common signs of potential drug smuggling, said spokeswoman Teresa Small, who declined to elaborate.

    "When they were patting her down, they realized there was something down there," Small said.

    The methamphetamine had been wrapped in black tape and a condom and inserted into Ibarra's body. She was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations.

    Officials said it is not unusual for narcotics smugglers to hide drugs inside human bodies, either by swallowing the package or through other means. A medical official was tasked with removing the package because exposure to the methamphetamine could have killed Ibarra.

    It was not known if she had an attorney or had previously been arrested on drug-smuggling charges.

    On StarNet: View photos of other confiscated items from the border at azstarnet.com/gallery

  • A Tucson man ran himself over while trying to flee a police officer during a traffic stop Thursday morning.

    Just before 9 a.m. an officer attempted to stop a vehicle near West Grant and North Oracle roads. Instead of stopping, the man tried to evade the motorcycle officer by driving through a Walgreens parking lot.

    However, because of construction at the intersection, the driver became boxed into the parking lot, said Sgt. Chris Widmer, spokesman for the Tucson Police Department.

    Still determined to avoid the traffic stop, the man climbed out the passenger window of his moving vehicle, but "his foot got caught in the window and he was pulled under the car and the back tire ran over him," Widmer said.

    After the tire ran over the man's torso, he got up and ran away. He was last seen running south across Grant Road at North 14th Avenue, Widmer said.

    Once the man abandoned his vehicle, it crashed into a garbage bin in the parking lot of a Burger King.

    Police are looking for the driver, who is described as an 18- or 19-year-old man standing 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighing 180 pounds, and wearing a black shirt and black sweat pants with a white stripe down the side.

    Investigators are curious to find out why he fled the traffic stop, but more importantly, "were concerned for his welfare because he was run over," Widmer said.

    Anyone who has information about the incident or the man should call 911.

    Still determined to avoid the traffic stop, the man climbed out the passenger window of his moving vehicle, but "his foot got caught in the window and he was pulled under the car and the back tire ran over him."

    Sgt. Chris Widmer, spokesman for the Tucson Police Department

    Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at kmatas@azstarnet.com or at 573-4191.

  • A 68-year-old man, who told deputies he feared for his safety, shot at a 22-year-old man he found in bed with his wife at the couple’s SaddleBrooke home early Saturday, authorities said.

    The husband called 911 around 1 a.m. to report a shooting at his home in the 38000 block of South Apache Peak Drive in SaddleBrooke, Tim Gaffney, a Pinal County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said in a news release.

    The husband told deputies he fell asleep in the main house and when he woke up his wife was not in bed, so he went to check their guesthouse where he found the woman, 63, in bed with Stephen Trevor Chapman, the release said.

    The man used his cane to poke Chapman to wake him and tell him to leave.

    Chapman began to yell profanities at the man and refused to leave, the release said.

    The man then said he was going to call the Sheriff’s Department to ask for help and as he went to get his phone and gun for protection, “Chapman came charging towards him in a threatening manner,” the release said.

    The man fired a “warning shot” at Chapman, and the round struck a wall and injured Chapman’s hand.

    Chapman refused medical treatment and was booked into jail on suspicion of one count of disorderly conduct.

    “This was an unusual call for our deputies in an active senior community,” Sheriff Paul Babeu said in the release. “Clearly, this young man should have heeded the warnings of the homeowner to leave his residence and to stop sleeping with his wife. The young man is lucky that he only got poked with a cane and hit with a stray pellet from the shotgun.”

  • A couple of women in need of under garments and feminine hygiene products were only partially thwarted from shoplifting at a dollar store earlier this month.

    It was an autumn night — not a summer’s eve — when a clerk at the Green Valley store spotted one of the women “stuff something down her pants,” according to a Pima County Sheriff’s Department report.

    When the clerk confronted the women, one of whom had bad teeth, they denied taking any merchandise, the report stated.

    After the clerk invited them to leave the store, one of the women who had been holding a bra and panties and threw the merchandise on the floor as she exited, the report stated. The women drove away in a “very beat up” sedan.

    The clerk looked around the store after the women left and found a wrapper they had left behind.

    According to the deputy who responded, the clerk “advised me that she was able to determine that the female had stuffed a feminine hygiene product called a douche down her pants.”

  • A vandal in the Foothills jumped the gun on Halloween.

    Early last month a man called the Pima County Sheriff’s Department after discovering someone had written “Hail Satan” in black marker on the tailgate of his white pickup truck.

    It wasn’t the first time someone tried to summon the devil using the victim’s vehicle, either, according to the sheriff’s report. The man told the deputy that in September someone had drawn a pentagram on his fender using a red “dry-erase-type marker.”

    The man “explained that because it was done with an erasable marker, he suspected it may have been his friend playing a prank on him which is why he did not report the incident,” the report stated.

    Initially he thought the “Hail Satan” message was of the dry-erase variety, but when he couldn’t rub it off, he called the sheriff’s department.

  • A deputy was called to an apartment complex in northeast Pima County last month after a landlord found marijuana plants in the unit of an evicted tenant.

    In a Pima County Sheriff’s Department report, the deputy stated: “I went into the back room where I noticed the hydro-colonic setup for growing. I looked at the bottom and saw one small green plant…I then went out to the back patio and found another small, tiny little marijuana plant that I knew through my training and experience to be marijuana,” the deputy stated.

    The deputy took photos of the two dried up pot plants before collecting them as evidence. The deputy also took into evidence a glass pipe and a bong that were left behind.

    The deputy left the “hydro-colonic” growing equipment for the landlord to discard.

  • A Pinal County man tried to flush 4 pounds of marijuana when deputies arrived to serve a search warrant, but the suspect only succeeded in clogging his toilet.

    Deputies found Christopher Cruz, 20, in the bathroom of his Casa Grande home in the 1200 block of North Center Avenue, Tuesday when they served a search warrant on the residence, Tim Gaffney, spokesman for the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department, said in a news release.

    In addition to the soggy pot, deputies also found two shotguns and a handgun in the home.

    Cruz was booked into the Pinal County jail and faces charges of possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana for sale, misconduct involving weapons, destruction of evidence and two counts of endangerment because there were two young children in the home.

    Cruz has a prior felony conviction related to criminal damage, Gaffney said.

  • A stove burner turned on by a dog started an apartment fire Tuesday morning.

    Just before 9:30 a.m., crews were called to a fire at an apartment complex in the 2100 block of North Bell Avenue near the intersection of North Swan and East Grant roads.

    No one was home, but firefighters rescued a dog from the apartment.

    When they arrived, heavy smoke was coming from the apartment, said Capt. Barrett Baker, spokesman for the Tucson Fire Department.

    In total, nine units and 23 firefighters responded to the scene. It took 13 minutes to bring the fire under control.

    Investigators determined a dog jumping up toward the counter  turned on the gas-fed burner and the flame ignited flammable items sitting on the stove, Baker said.

    He did not have a damage estimate.

    

  • Thieves snatched the bust of former President John F. Kennedy from a downtown park during the weekend.

    City officials said someone ripped the bronze bust from its granite base in El Presidio Park, which is home to City Hall and the old Pima County Courthouse. It’s not known exactly when it was stolen.

    A city parks employee noticed it was missing Monday morning while making his rounds, said Sierra Davenport, a Parks and Recreation spokeswoman.

    The bust was originally unveiled Nov. 22, 1964, one year after Kennedy’s assassination.

    It cost $1,000 and was paid for by the Pima County Democratic Party.

    Hundreds attended the dedication ceremony that day with local officials and Arizona’s then-Governor-elect Sam Goddard. 

    The bust was removed in 1968 during construction of the new park. It was returned in 1971.

    The bust measures 1 foot, 8 inches in height and stood just over 6 feet when on the base.

    While thieves do steal bronze statues to cash in on the raw materials, it might be difficult to turn a profit on this particular piece, said Mary Ellen Wooten, public art program manager for the Tucson Pima Arts Council.

    “It’s difficult when you have a sculpture of somebody this recognizable,” she said. “You’d think somebody would be suspicious” if you took it to them.

    Wooten speculated the person or people responsible for lifting the 35th president’s bust might have wanted it for personal reasons and won’t attempt to sell it.

    Either way, Wooten said, it’s important the bust is located and brought back to the city.

    “It’s something that belongs to all of us and should be returned,” she said.

    A police report has been made and area metal shops have been informed.

    City officials encourage anyone with information related to the theft to call 88-CRIME.

  • Customs officers found more than clothes when they inspected a suitcase in the back of a vehicle at the Port of Nogales last week. 

    A 56-year-old man from Phoenix was stopped for further inspection of his vehicle while crossing the border on Dec. 30 and when officers opened a suitcase in the back of a Honda SUV, they found a 48-year-old woman underneath clothes, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection News Release. 

    The woman is a Thai national, the release said. 

    The SUV was seized. 

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