Police Chase through Manchester following statue heist

BENNINGTON -- After a $1,750 polar bear statue was taken from a Manchester retail store on Tuesday, police said they picked up the chase for the suspects after the store owners left off.

An arrest was made after the suspect, Christopher E. Richards, 45, of Brandon, was identified with the aid of Brandon police. Richards pleaded not guilty Friday in Bennington Superior Court Criminal Division to felony counts of grand larceny, gross negligent vehicle operation in an attempt to elude police, gross negligent vehicle operation, and a misdemeanor charge of driving under a license suspended for driving under the influence of alcohol.

He was ordered held without bail until a weight of the evidence hearing.

According to an affidavit by Manchester Police Cpl. James Blanchard, on Tuesday at 4:37 p.m. he responded to Long Ago and Far Away, a retail store on Main Street. An employee, Patricia Hewes, said a man had come in with a satchel bag over his shoulder. Before he left he shifted the bag to his front. Shortly after that, a woman entered the store and acted suspiciously, according to Hewes. After she left, Hewes noticed an empty spot on a shelf and called store owner Betsy Turner, who said a polar bear statue had been there.

Hewes went outside in search of the woman, who had also been carrying a bag, and saw her enter a vehicle with the man she had seen before. Hewes then met up with Turner and they went after the vehicle to learn its license plate number, which they say they did.

Blanchard was waiting for Hewes and Turner when they returned to the store and took their statements before going to search for the vehicle. He found it near the Orvis Outlet Store. He attempted to pull over the vehicle, but it led him down Equinox Terrace Road and went into a parking lot, where it got stuck in a grassy area. Blanchard said he left his cruiser and drew his firearm but the driver ignored his commands to stop and exit the vehicle.

The driver was able was able to get going again and Blanchard said he saw a female passenger who appeared to be upset and was telling the driver to stop. Blanchard wrote that he followed the vehicle back toward Main Street, where it was driving at 60 mph, double the posted speed limit, and passing others cars. He stopped chasing it for safety reasons.

Blanchard said he was able to get a good look at the vehicle and the people in it and sent out an email to police in the area. He received information from Brandon police that allowed him identify the driver as Richards and the female passenger as Rebecca Lambert.

According to the affidavit, Brandon police stopped a vehicle the following day being driven by Lambert with Richards as a passenger. Lambert was arrested for driving with a suspended license and when asked about the incident in Manchester Richards denied involvement but said Brandon Police Chief Christopher Brickell would find the statue on his doorstep the next day. On Thursday, according to the affidavit, Brickell said he found the statue on his doorstep Wednesday evening and would bring it to the Brandon Police Department for Manchester Police to retrieve.

Blanchard wrote that while on the way to get the statue he saw the car he had chased on Tuesday and pulled it over, thinking it was being driven by Richards. It was not, and the male driving it, David Stone, said he bought it from Richards for $400 and said Richards told him he was selling it because it was involved in a chase earlier.

Blanchard and another Manchester Police officer were given directions to Richards' house where they found him and Lambert. Richards was arrested and declined to speak with police.


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