House-trashing bash leads to big trouble for 10 Hopewell Valley teens

"There were burns on the wood floor from cigarettes being put out on it, broken furniture, a damaged aquarium, and a sauce or some other kind of liquid had been thrown onto the wall," police said.

By John Tredrea
   Police said Monday 10 Hopewell Valley teenagers burglarized an Elm Ridge Park home during the holidays, spending several nights there drinking beer and trashing the place.
   "General mayhem" was how township police Capt. George Meyer described the scene officers found in the house.
   "There were burns on the wood floor from cigarettes being put out on it, broken furniture, a damaged aquarium, and a sauce or some other kind of liquid had been thrown onto the wall," the captain said.
   Capt. Meyer said no dollar estimate of the damage is available yet.
   "It was extensive enough that they haven’t been able to finish adding up the cost yet," he said.
   The investigation of this case, which began Dec. 29, culminated in late January after all 10 had been arrested. All 10 teenagers, three of whose names were released by police because they are 18 and considered adults under the law, have been charged with burglary, criminal trespass and criminal mischief. Charged with those three offenses are: John Frazee, 18, of Carter Road, Hopewell Township, who police say obtained a key to the locked Honey Brook Drive residence; Arthur Lewis III, 18, of Larchmont Court, Hopewell Township; and Lauren Reading, 18, of South Main Street, Pennington.
   Also charged with burglary, criminal trespass and criminal mischief were three 17-year-old boys, two from the township and one from Pennington; three 17-year-old girls, two from the township and one from Hopewell Borough; and one 16-year-old township girl. Eight of the 10 also were charged with underage possession of alcohol. One of the 17-year-old township girls and the 16-year-old Hopewell Borough girl were not charged with the alcohol offense.
   When asked if all 10 teenagers are Hopewell Valley Central High School students, Capt. Meyer replied, "Yes, I believe they are."
   Capt. Meyer said John Frazee is acquainted with a 17-year-old daughter of the family who lives at the burglarized residence. Police believe Mr. Frazee learned from her where the key was hidden. Capt. Meyer said Wednesday morning he does not know where that hiding spot was. The daughter has not been charged with anything and police say there is no indication she gave anyone the go-ahead to use the home while she was in Florida with her family or had any idea what would happen there while the family was away.
   The 10 individuals charged in the case were arrested individually during a month-long investigation that culminated late in January. Capt. Meyer said police were alerted to the situation at 9:45 p.m. Dec. 29 by a neighbor of the owners of the burglarized home. The family who owns the house was vacationing in Florida during the holidays.
   "We got a call about a burglary in progress by an individual who had been asked, by the owners, to keep an eye on the place," Capt. Meyer said. "This individual saw at least three people inside the home."
   The individual who saw the intruders left the Honey Brook Drive residence immediately and called the police. Officers Louis Vastola and Mandy Gray and other officers were dispatched to the home.
   "Nothing appeared to be missing, but it was obvious the place was being used for partying," Capt. Meyer said. "There were many plastic cups inside the house, some of them with beer that was still cold. In some of the other cups, the beer was quite warm."
   Capt. Meyer said the warm beer and the fact that there "was a lot of unopened beer" led police to believe that the partying had been going on for several nights. The ensuing investigation proved that suspicion correct, he said.
   "Blankets and sheets had been hung over windows," to screen the partying from the view of passers-by, said Capt. Meyer, who added the owners of the home were contacted by police shortly after evidence of the intruders was discovered. "The owners told us no one was supposed to be in there," he said.
   Backup officers continued to arrive the night of Dec. 29 as Officers Vastola and Grey continued to search the house. They didn’t find anyone inside.
   "They did find various belongings that had been left behind by individuals who subsequently were charged," Capt. Meyer said. Among those belongings were three cell phones. "They kept ringing while the officers were there," he said.
   The phones and other belongings were used to track down the 10 who were charged. When the search moved from the house to the yard the night of Dec. 29, Officer Gray found a 17-year-old township boy, one of the 10 who was eventually charged. None of the others were found on the premises that night.
   Capt. Meyer said that, when the family returned home, they discovered a set of keys to a car that had been left at the residence while they were away was missing. He said those keys were given to police by one of the girls who was charged.
   "She told us she was keeping the keys to make sure none of the others involved drove the car," Capt. Meyer said. None of the 10 was charged with stealing the car or using it without the owner’s permission.
   Because burglary is an indictable offense, the cases involving the three 18-year-olds have been forwarded to the county prosecutor’s office in Trenton, for possible grand jury action, Capt. Meyer said. The cases of the seven juveniles will be heard in family court, in Trenton.