Similar to many crime victims, Ricky Inman was frustrated — not only because his property was taken during multiple break-ins, but by the massive damage left behind as well.
“They destroyed everything I had,” Inman said of his three unoccupied mobile homes off Cook School Road which were hit twice in April — including walls and ceilings being torn out and robbed of items such as copper. He estimates his loss, including the damage and stolen property, at more than $20,000, which was not covered by insurance.
Inman, 48, now of Lowgap, wanted to fight back against those who were responsible for the trashing of the place where he grew up — which would involve planting a deer camera at the site. “I just stuck it in the honeysuckle vines,” he said.
The device subsequently recorded evidence during the second break-in which was used in court earlier this month to send one of three young people caught on camera there to prison.
“It was there one hour,” Inman said of the time elapsing between the placing of the camera and the return to the scene of the crime by the youths, two of whom are still awaiting trail.
The victim said he at least has gained a degree of satisfaction knowing that his effort thus far has resulted in the incarceration of one of the perpetrators.
“I feel great,” Inman said of the active sentence of eight to 19 months which Alexander Scott Gullatt, 21, received during the Nov. 15 session of Surry Superior Court. “He can’t take people’s stuff there (behind bars),” he added of Gullatt, who has been listed with addresses in both Pilot Mountain and King, but now calls a prison cell home.
“That was the main thing,” the property owner added of seeing the active sentence imposed. “That way he can’t do it no more.”
Inman said the photographic evidence from the camera which was presented in court — including clearly showing Gullatt walking away with stolen property — was the difference between the perpetrator receiving a relative slap on the wrist and landing behind bars.
“You would not believe how much of a difference,” Inman said of the impression made on the court. “He was going to walk out on probation.”
Gullatt pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts of breaking and entering and possession of stolen goods, along with larceny after breaking and entering. They relate to the break-ins occurring on back-to-back days in late April.
The two others charged, Alexandria Marie Lynch and Kelsee Elizabeth Lynch, both 23, relationship unknown, are scheduled to appear in court on similar offenses on Dec. 12.
“Everything I Owned”
In addition to having grown up there himself, his place in the Cook School Road area also was special to Ricky Inman in another way. “I raised two children there,” he explained.
The mobile homes are in a rural area and had been unoccupied for some time. That might lead one to say that it was inevitable they would be targeted in an era when vacant structures often are stripped of wiring and pipes that are sold as scrap metal.
“They pulled the ceilings and the walls out,” Inman said. “They took the doors off of every one of them.”
Water heaters also were taken, along with personal property such as lawn mowers, golf carts, family mementos and most anything else of value that a thief could cart away — even metal roofing material. “Everything I owned in the world down there” was lost, Inman said.
Extensive repairs will be required if the mobile homes are ever to be inhabited again, and one of the structures had to be bulldozed because the damage was so great.
Inman has endured three major back surgeries and must rent a home in Lowgap due to being in no position to once again live at the site hit by criminals — as if he wanted to do so at this particular time.
Seeing the property in such a decimated state has been heart-breaking, admitted Inman, who now is caring for two young grandchildren.
“I can’t go back to it.”
Camera Use Advised
After his place was struck the first time and the Surry County Sheriff’s Office responded, Inman was advised by one officer to place a deer camera at the site. Such devices, which are motion-activated, are used by hunters to monitor activity at their deer stands.
The officer’s suggestion also reflects a trend of video surveillance increasingly being employed as a crime-solving tool.
In Inman’s case, the prey was of the two-legged rather than four-legged variety, but he still was able to bag his limit in a criminal justice sense. The deer camera recorded vivid images of the crime in progress and clearly showed Gullatt’s face.
Based on his experience, the crime victim can confidently recommend the same solution to others having similar problems.
While the camera he used cost $300, “you can buy them for as little as $50,” according to Inman.
Digital photography advances have enabled cameras to be set to take either still photographs or motion pictures, with each activated whenever some movement comes into view. One is limited only by the memory card contained in the devices.
“It will take over 10,000 pictures,” Inman said, although his camera has a larger card with the capacity for 12,000-plus shots.
One important thing he advises others is to make sure the time and date logs are accurately set on cameras. This is important for the prosecution phase in pinpointing someone’s presence at a crime scene at a specific time.
“It’s there for the judge to see, and that’s what they want,” Inman said.
Even armed with such strong evidence, it still took months for investigators to establish a foundation for the suspects to be charged. Then there were multiple court appearances leading to Gullatt’s recent trial before a judge in Surry Superior Court.
But Inman said it was worth the wait to see justice done. Though his loss was not ensured, the court recommended restitution payments by Gullatt as a condition of post-release supervision or work release.
The visual evidence presented swayed Judge Ronald E. Spivey when meting out the punishment to Gullatt, Inman said.
While the man’s attorney pointed out to the judge that his client was cooperative during the investigation, Inman said Spivey replied with something to the effect, “it’s hard not to be cooperative with this kind of evidence.”
Spivey even chided Gullatt that the pictures made of him were pretty good ones, too. The defendant stood by mutely the whole time, Inman said. “He just held his head down.”
Inman has been through quite a photographic adventure. But he believes there’s a lesson to be learned as far as extra steps citizens can take to protect themselves given the frequency of such crimes today.
“People have got to do things like this,” Inman said, clutching his trusty camera.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.