Police: Phone’s redial captures coin caper

A suspect’s own phone call helped Logan Township police identify the man they claim stole a change dispenser from an Altoona convenience store.

It was just before 1 p.m. Saturday when a man walked into Sheetz, 1015 Old Sixth Ave., and asked to use the phone, telling the clerk he was out of gas, according to Logan Township police.

After the man hung up the phone, he allegedly grabbed one of the coin dispensers that are attached to the cash registers and ran out the door, disappearing with $142.97 in coins, police said.

When Logan Township police responded, Officer Matthew Lutz simply pressed the redial button on the phone, and when a woman answered, he identified himself and asked who he was speaking with. After the woman told Lutz her name, he asked who had just called her from Sheetz.

After telling Lutz it was Jason Comer, 32, of Pittsburgh, the woman proceeded to tell the officer that Comer was driving her green Ford Escape and gave him the last four digits of the license plate, according to police.

Lutz found the Ford parked on Old Sixth Avenue and while awaiting a tow truck to arrive, noticed another vehicle pull in behind the abandoned vehicle. Lutz had viewed the Sheetz surveillance footage of the theft and recognized Comer as he got out of the passenger side, according to police.

As Comer and another man walked toward the Ford with a gas can, Lutz pulled up.

“They were going to run but thought better of it,” said Logan Township Police Chief Ron Heller, noting that Lutz was with his police dog, Vilo. Police said Lutz hooked Vilo to his leash and ordered the men to the ground.

When asked if he knew why he was wanted by police, Comer allegedly said he did.

“For the Sheetz thing,” Comer allegedly told police. Police said Comer said he took the change because he was experiencing difficult times and needed the money. Comer said he was picked up by a friend and cashed the change in at a CoinStar machine at Martin’s Foods before ditching the coin dispenser at a Sheetz on 25th Avenue as he filled up the gas can.

Police said officers recovered the coin dispenser at the 25th Avenue Sheetz, and Comer had $74.05 on him when he was searched after his arrest.

Comer is wanted in Allegheny County for violating probation related to a theft case, and he remains in Blair County Prison in lieu of the $15,000 cash bail set by Magisterial District Judge Fred Miller on Saturday during his arraignment on misdemeanor theft-related charges.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at Central Court.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.