Arrest made in Manatee 'smash-and-grab' burglary spree

rdymond@bradenton.comDecember 20, 2013 

MANATEE -- Gini Solokis and Myrna Thompson did a happy dance Thursday morning after hearing a suspect was behind bars in connection with a recent string of 17 "smash-and-grab" burglaries.

Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputies arrested Robert Saunders, 34, early Thursday shortly after they saw him break into Dan's Fan City, 1808 Cortez Road W., by smashing the front glass door.

Solokis' Face Forward Facial Studio, 2038 43rd Ave. W., where Thompson is a nail specialist, had a smash-and-grab incident Dec. 10 when a suspect heaved a chunk of cement through the front glass door and grabbed a bag containing $20, Solokis said.

"We danced when we heard he was no longer on the street," Solokis said. "It's scary when someone is out there. You never know what they might do next. We were on guard all the time."

Although deputies have not yet charged Saunders with all 17 smash-and-grab

crimes committed since mid-November, the latest crime matches the others, sheriff's office spokesman Dave Bristow said Thursday.

"We believe that he is responsible for some of these and maybe all of them," Bristow said. "We are still looking at it. The MO is very similar in all of them. We've got video in some of them. It looks pretty good that we have the person. But he has only been charged with the one from Thursday morning."

Nothing was taken in six break-ins, Bristow said. A TV, laptop computer and small amounts of cash were among items taken in the others.

"The suspect grabbed what was readily available," Bristow said.

Others were relieved Thursday.

Ann "Annie" Hall, owner of Annie's Pet Grooming, 4038 20th St. W., said she was victimized Monday.

"Someone threw a big, round rock through our door," Hall said Thursday. "He got a little money and took my laptop. I'm glad he was caught. He was out stealing from people."

At Face Forward Facial Studio, a plywood door painted pink replaced the broken glass door Thursday.

"We wanted it pretty," Solokis said.

Solokis was one of the few victimized businesses with an operative security camera, which provided video to authorities and helped them arrest Saunders, Bristow said.

The arrest at Dan's Fan City came during heightened patrols and surveillance along Cortez Road, where all the crimes have been committed.

At about 2:10 a.m. they spotted a man in the bushes of the Demetrios Italian restaurant, 1720 Cortez Road W., according to a news release.

Using night vision gear, deputies watched as the man as the went to Dan's Fan City, where he was seen "looking around as if looking for a clear moment to make entry," the report states. "The subject was observed picking up a piece of broken curbing and eventually observed throwing it through the window, smashing it."

Deputies arrested the man without incident.

"The thing that really shocked us was the velocity of the concrete boulder he threw," Solokis said. "It hit my carpet and also shattered my back bathroom door. I wonder how a human could throw a boulder that hard."

Authorities confirmed one boulder toss did all the damage, Solokis said.

"I'm glad he just took my laptop," Hall said. "I had it in a shoulder bag, It was broke on one corner, so it was not a real bad loss. He took a few dollars out of the cash register. It wasn't that bad, but the fact that he came into my shop and busted my front door is the really wrong thing."

Investigators believe Saunders is the same man deputies saw trying to breaking into another business Monday night but was scared off, according to the report.

When arrested, Saunders reportedly was wearing the same hat seen in previous surveillance videos as well as arm tattoos.

Saunders faces charges of burglary, theft and dealing in stolen property. He is being held at the Manatee County jail on bonds totaling $36,500.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.

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