Two Local Men Arrested in Clearfield Burglary, Arson Case

CLEARFIELD – Two local men have been arrested for allegedly burglarizing a Clearfield home and then attempting to burn it down.

Stephen J. Zimmerman, 22, of New Millport and Nevin E. Kruise, 27, of Westover have been charged by Officer Elliott Neeper of the Lawrence Township police with felony counts of burglary, criminal trespass, arson, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, criminal mischief, reckless burning or exploding (two counts) and risking catastrophe.

Zimmerman has also been charged with one felony count of criminal use of a communication facility. Both have been charged with misdemeanor counts of possession of instrument of crime, unauthorized use of motor/other vehicles, tamper with/fabricate physical evidence and two drug-related offenses.

In a second case, Zimmerman has been charged with felony counts of receiving stolen property and criminal use of a communication facility.

According to the affidavits of probable cause, Neeper received a report about a burglary May 24 in the 400 block of Lawana Lane in Clearfield. The resident had returned home at approximately 5 p.m. and noticed his Polaris side-by-side was missing from the driveway.

He observed that the front living room door was wide open. All the doors had been locked before he and his wife left earlier that day. When he started to look around inside, he discovered fire damage to the furniture, and there was a “pour pattern” on the floor from apparent gasoline.

The resident also observed damage to his gun safe in the living room. He called his wife to come home and then 911.

Upon arrival at the scene, police took 360-degree photographs of the exterior of the residence. A “clear and visible” trail from the side-by-side’s tires was observed in the grass. It was evident it had been backed up to the front door before leaving via the driveway.

The resident said he kept the keys for his all-terrain vehicle inside the front door, and there had been some mechanical issues. He didn’t believe it would have been able to travel very far.

He described the side-by-side as being bright red in color without any doors and with a Grateful Dead sticker on the hood. It had an LED light bar and a Yeti bottle opener mounted to its tailgate.

Upon completing an inspection of the residence, there wasn’t anyone found inside. However, the resident said a window had been left open at the rear of the home, which would have allowed access to the suspects.

Police returned to the living area and observed “moderate” fire damage to three wooden bar stools, the couch and floor. A gasoline pour spout was left behind at the scene.

It appeared the suspects had attempted to burn down the residence, but the fire burnt out after the gas burnt off, Neeper said in the affidavit.

The resident’s gun safe was located in the same area, and it had heavy damage to its handle and digital code dial. The tools used to damage the safe were left behind, including a digging bar, pick-axe and sledge hammer, which were all from the resident’s garage.

No entry was made into the safe, but an Apple iPad was missing that had been left on the couch. In the family room, the power panel box was found in a closet with the main breaker pulled, leaving the residence without power.

The 40-inch television, which was mounted on the wall, was tilted, and it appeared there had been an attempt to remove it. Fingerprints were observed and collected by a state trooper who assisted at the scene.

A Play Station 4 and an assortment of games and DVDs were missing from below the television, according to the affidavit.

Although kitchen cabinets were left open, there wasn’t anything reported missing. It appeared a playroom and the residents’ upstairs bedrooms were untouched.

When police returned to the ground floor and entered the master bedroom, it was evident the bed had been moved and items were strewn about. Police checked the point of entry and there weren’t any fingerprints observed on the window’s ledge.

The dresser drawers had been removed and the clothing was disheveled. A lockbox, which was kept under the bed, had been broken open. It contained social security cards, passports and medical records, and the passports were found to be missing.

Upon checking the bathroom area where jewelry items were kept, it was discovered diamond necklaces and rings had been taken.

A Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal was requested to respond and investigate the fire. He confirmed the fire was an act of arson, and evidence was collected from the burnt material on the floor.

The residents later compiled a complete list of missing items for Neeper. The residents were going to stay with a relative since their home wasn’t in any condition to live in.

Prior to clearing the scene, police observed tire tracks from the stolen side-by-side leaving Lawana Lane and heading south towards the Old Erie Pike. In the woods, there were multiple all-terrain vehicle trails in the area.

On May 29, police returned to the Lawana Lane residence to collect additional evidence. A trooper had discovered a Garcia y Vega white peach-flavored cigar wrapper that had been overlooked in the initial investigation.

The wrapper smelled of marijuana and contained two cigars that were suspected of having been refilled with marijuana. It had been located and photographed on the floor in front of the gun safe; it was collected and returned to the township police station.

On June 6, police received information about a male who was trying to sell a Polaris side-by-side on Facebook messenger. The witness said he would request photographs and information to provide to police.

The next day, the witness e-mailed Facebook messages that he exchanged with Zimmerman. He described the side-by-side as being “brand new” and “beautiful.” Zimmerman said it didn’t have any doors but did have an LED light bar, which was extra.

Zimmerman also sent a picture of this ATV he had, which was discovered to be the same one stolen in the burglary and that was published on GANT News as part of the police investigation.

On June 9, Neeper contacted the witness to see if he had any new information. He indicated he had spoken to Zimmerman, who had the side-by-side and was in possession of a sound system for it.

He said Zimmerman had also indicated he had started to remove parts, such as the bottle opener, and he had both keys. Zimmerman allegedly admitted to the witness that he knew the ATV was stolen.

The witness later asked Zimmermann to send additional pictures to prove he had the side-by-side, which he did. The pictures were then forwarded to Neeper for his case file.

Neeper forwarded the pictures to the resident who said it was “without a doubt” his Polaris side-by-side. In one picture, he recognized a green bottle opener connected to the ignition key.

He also pointed out that the LED light and rear brake light switches had been removed from the dash, leaving holes. Police advised the resident that they would contact him when his ATV was recovered.

On June 9, Neeper received information that Zimmerman could be located in Glen Richey. Lawrence Township and Clearfield Borough police officers located Zimmerman in a blue Toyota Rev 4 in the fire hall parking lot.

During an interview with police, Zimmerman said he was walking with Kruise and they decided to go down Lawana Lane. When they came to the residence, they saw the Polaris side-by-side in the driveway.

He said they walked around the residence knocking on doors and discovered that there wasn’t anyone at home. Then, he said Kruise went to the rear of the residence and made entry via an open window.

According to Zimmerman, Kruise ran through the residence to the front door and let him inside. While they were rummaging through the residence, he located the keys for the side-by-side, went outside and found out they worked.

Zimmerman said when he returned, he began to load items into the ATV, while Kruise attempted to break into the safe.  He said after about 10 minutes, Kruise gave up.

Zimmerman admitted that before they left, he told Kruise to get the gas can out of the garage. He said Kruise went back inside to the living area, began pouring the gasoline and then lit it on fire as he watched. Zimmerman said after that, he and Kruise got on the ATV and fled the scene.

Zimmerman said he took the side-by-side to Kruise’s residence and left it there for a few days until moving it to a wooded area in Pike Township. He agreed to take officers to the location where it was in a field; it had allegedly been “dismantled, painted and ground down with power tools.”

Zimmerman told police a wheel had fallen off the side-by-side while he was moving it and the battery was dead. A towing service was contacted to move the ATV to its impound yard.

Zimmerman was transported back to the township police station. He provided police with additional details about the burglary and the location of stolen electronics, passports and other items.

Police later contacted the Pennsylvania State Police to request assistance with locating Kruise at a Main Street address in Grampian.  He was later taken into custody and to the police station for the purpose of an interview.

Kruise initially denied any involvement with the burglary, and police said he showed signs of deception. When confronted with the evidence, Kruise allegedly admitted to committing the burglary with Zimmerman.

According to Kruise’s story, he and Zimmermann walked up Lawana Lane, but it was Zimmerman’s idea to go inside the residence. He claimed Zimmermann had agreed to pay him in methamphetamine to help steal items from inside.

Kruise said that Zimmerman went in first via a rear door or window, while he stayed outside. Then, he said Zimmerman let him in and that it was Zimmerman, who was responsible for attempting to break into the safe and rummaging through the residence.

Unable to break into the safe, Kruise said Zimmerman went to the garage for a gas can. He said he saw Zimmerman shove a rag in the top and light it, and then the fire spread; both then fled on the Polaris side-by-side.

For his cases, Zimmerman’s bail has been set at a combined $150,000, while Kruise’s bail has been set at $100,000. Both are scheduled to appear for preliminary hearings June 20 during centralized court at the Clearfield County Jail.

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