Police investigate rash of Asheville home invasions | CITIZEN-TIMES.com | Asheville Citizen-Times

Police investigate rash of Asheville home invasions
Josh Boatwright
• published January 23, 2009 12:15 am

ASHEVILLE – City police have recorded five home-invasion robberies in the past 13 days, half the number recorded in all of last year.

All happened in residential areas, and in one case a man and woman were bound in their bedroom as two men rummaged through their house.

Police made arrests in that case and one other. Investigators believe four of the robberies were drug-related, police said Thursday.

“If you're not engaging in criminal activity, you're not selling or possessing lots of money or illegal drugs… generally, you don't stand a risk of being home-invaded,” Asheville police Capt. Tim Splain said.

The home invasion that appears to have been random happened Jan. 11, when two men in ski masks entered a mountaintop home on Sunset Summit and tied up a couple.

Police arrested Blake Fran McGrath, 25, of Hickory, Christopher Matthew Hassell, 24, of Leicester, and Jessica Starr Thomas, 17, of Asheville, on Jan. 12 in that case.

Officers on Wednesday arrested Matthew Rion Gray, 24, on charges that he and another assailant held a gun to a man's head Jan. 14 and barged into an apartment on Unaka Avenue.

Investigators have obtained information on the second attacker in that case, Splain said.

Police continue to investigate three other home invasions that happened between Jan. 10 and 18:

Jan. 10, 3:40 a.m., Kenilworth Road: Three men entered an apartment with a gun while at least seven people were inside. The men took a camera, iPod and digital scales. Victims could not give an account of how the men left or in what direction they traveled. No one was injured. The offenders were described as black, 19-24 years old, 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet tall, 170-200 pounds. Their faces were not covered.

Jan. 16, 9 p.m., Dorchester Avenue: A woman told police three black men broke through her front door, displayed a gun and demanded money. The victim pointed them to her purse, and they took $75. The offenders wore baggy clothing. One of them wore a long, black, hooded overcoat, and the other two had their faces covered. No one was injured.

Jan. 18, 1:30 p.m., Cherry Street: A woman told police three men barged into her Cherry Street apartment through an unlocked door, physically assaulted her, then stole her digital camera. Officers responded after the woman sent text messages to her friend to call police. The victim was taken to Mission Hospital to be treated for nonlife-threatening injuries. She told police she sent text messages when she was left alone during the robbery.

Police are investigating similarities in the description of offenders in the three crimes.

“We're trying to make identification on them and determine whether it was just one set of three black males or maybe more than one,” Splain said.

Police received 10 reports of home invasions in 2008 and made arrests in three, police spokeswoman Melissa Williams said in an e-mail.

Victims who are involved in illegal drugs are unlikely to report the crime to police, and those who do won't cooperate with the investigation, Williams said.

A shortage of cocaine on the streets and the tightening economy may be to blame for the sudden spike in these crimes in Asheville since the new year, Splain said.

Drug dealers who formerly relied on selling cocaine to make a living are being driven to break into residences where they believe they will find a stash of drugs or cash, Splain said.

“The consistent issue, just like nearly all our home invasions last year, is that we're generally dealing with people who are involved in the illegal drug business robbing other people who are involved in the illegal drug business,” Splain said.

Most home invasions nationwide tend to be connected to illegal drugs, he said.

Sharon Fahrer, a 12-year resident of the Montford neighborhood, said the report of the home invasion on Cherry Street and others do not make her feel unsafe.

“I feel like some of the crime (is between) related people. I don't feel like there's a lot of random crime that's dangerous,” said Fahrer, a Montford Neighborhood Association board member.

Fahrer said police inform the community about crimes that might endanger residents.

Buncombe County sheriff's deputies have received two reports of home-invasion robberies since Jan. 1, but both cases involved a suspect breaking into family members' homes.

“We certainly don't want undue concern out there when there aren't facts to back it up,” Sheriff's Lt. Randy Sorrells said. “(Misperceptions) cause people to live in fear that's not necessary,” he said.