Man accused of vehicle break-ins

Police have recovered a stash of empty wallets and purses, as well as empty heroin packets, from the home of a man implicated in a rash of vehicle break-ins in and around Hollidaysburg.

Hollidaysburg Borough Police Chief Jeff Ketner said more charges are coming against Christopher A. Johnston, 44, of 515 N. Montgomery St. who was arraigned Wednesday morning on theft-related charges pertaining to three vehicle break-ins last month.

Ketner said investigators believe Johnston is responsible for between 30 and 40 break-ins since May, the last of which was reported July 4.

“They were in parking lots. Either the vehicle was left unlocked or had its windows down,” Ketner said. “Eventually he got desperate and started popping out windows.”

Ketner noted Johnston didn’t smash out the windows, but instead used a pry bar to pry the windows until they shattered.

According to a search warrant obtained by Hollidaysburg Borough police on Saturday, police identified Johnston as a suspect June 28 and said witness descriptions of a suspicious man spotted lurking around several locations around the time thefts were reported match Johnston.

His vehicle, complete with Virginia license plates, was even photographed next to one of the vehicles police say he broke into to steal a purse in Blair Township on June 25.

According to police, a victim of a break-in at Chimney Rocks Park took a photo of his vehicle after walking to the middle look-out. Next to it was parked an older model, blue Chevrolet or GMC SUV, a vehicle the victim said was already parked there when he and his girlfriend arrived. The victim snapped a photo of his vehicle with the SUV next to it, its Virginia plates and inspection sticker visible, before heading up the trail, police noted.

When the couple returned to their vehicle, the blue SUV was gone, the side window to their vehicle was broken out, and the woman’s purse was gone.

A check by police showed Johnston owns a dark blue 1996 Chevrolet Tahoe that is registered to a Falls Church, Va., address.

Another witness at the Blairmont Club, 265 Larch Street, also reported seeing someone matching Johnston’s description and a blue Chevrolet SUV around the time of a June 9 theft, in which a purse with $1,200 in cash was stolen from an unlocked Jeep, investigator Officer William Sheehan noted in the search warrant.

On Friday, Ketner saw Johnston driving away from Legion Park at a very high speed about 10:25 a.m. but lost sight of the Tahoe on North Juniata Street, according to the search warrant. When Ketner drove past Johnston’s home, where he lives with his parents, Ketner saw the Tahoe sitting in the alley, the driver-side door open and Johnston walking into a barn in the back of the property. Police said 20 minutes later, someone reported a purse was taken from a vehicle at Legion Park.

That same day, officers pulled Johnston’s trash, and on Saturday police rummaged through eight bags of trash. According to police, several items that could be tied to victims of vehicle break-ins were found, including a Verizon Wireless rebate card in the name of a woman who had her purse taken from Legion Park on June 13. Police also recovered about 50 empty heroin packets, a needle and other drug-related items in the trash, records indicate.

A subsequent search turned up a garbage bag stuffed with purses and wallets in a closet, police said, as well as pills and syringes in a dresser.

Police said identification cards and other belongings of the victims were among the items taken from the closet.

Ketner noted Johnston never used any credit cards that were stolen so as to avoid the chance of showing up on security cameras.

Other items found can’t be tied to any reported thefts, so police suspect some victims have not reported their thefts.

Ketner said along with Legion Park, Blairmont Club and Chimney Rocks incidents, Johnston also hit vehicles at the Hollidaysburg YMCA, the Hollidaysburg Little League field, Canal Basin Park and Canoe Creek State Park, along with areas of Altoona, Logan Township and Blair Township.

“If anybody in those areas had items taken from their vehicles, give us a call,” Ketner said.

Magisterial District Judge Fred Miller arraigned Johnston on Wednesday morning on misdemeanor theft-related charges, and he was placed in Blair County Prison after failing to post a total of $60,000 cash bail. A preliminary hearing is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday before Magisterial District Judge Paula Aigner in Hollidaysburg.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.