BRATTLEBORO -- Most potential car buyers use a test drive to get better-acquainted with a vehicle. But Vermont State Police say a Brattleboro man took a dealer's Jeep Cherokee for a spin and committed a felony.
An arrest warrant has been issued for Jeremy Fernette, 25, after he failed to appear this week in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division for his arraignment on two counts of burglary and one count of unlawful mischief.
Fernette's record includes three burglary convictions in 2007. All of the new charges are felonies, and police said the allegations stem from two incidents at the same Newfane residence.
State Police Trooper Max Trenosky said he was assigned a burglary complaint on Dec. 6 from a homeowner on Silver Mine Trail in Newfane. The man had returned home to find a broken window, and further investigation showed that "dresser drawers in the master bedroom had been ransacked, but nothing was taken," court documents say.
The resident also mentioned that his home had been burglarized several months prior. Police said their database showed an incident there on July 22, but they "couldn't proceed with an arrest" at that time due to a lack of evidence.
During the investigation in early December, Trenosky wrote in an affidavit, the homeowner produced a game camera that had been set up outside and captured "three images of the burglar and his vehicle" at the scene.
The first image, taken about an hour and 15 minutes before the homeowner had returned, showed a Jeep Cherokee.
Police interviewed a neighbor who had spoken with the driver of a Jeep Cherokee around the time of the burglary. The neighbor "found it odd" that the driver had made a point of stopping to ask him about hunting sites in the area and noted that there also had been a woman in the Jeep, court documents say.
The game camera had captured the Jeep's license plate, and police traced it to a Brattleboro car dealership on Putney Road where a salesman remembered a man and a woman taking a test drive on the day in question. The salesman "advised that he obtained the male's license and made a photocopy of it before the test drive," Trenosky wrote.
"The license photo of Fernette matched the male on the game camera and (the neighbor's) description," the trooper wrote.
Police tracked down Fernette and his wife in Brattleboro, where the suspect's wife confirmed the test drive and said Fernette "changed the plans and wanted to test out the vehicle's 4x4 capabilities," court documents say.
While at the Newfane residence, the woman said she "stayed in the vehicle and heard some loud noises and, after a few minutes, she observed Fernette get back in the Jeep." She "asked Fernette what happened, and he stated that he had broken a window and that he should not have done it," Trenosky wrote.
The woman told police that Fernette had entered the same home in July and had stolen jewelry.
Subsequently, Fernette admitted the burglaries, the affidavit says. In December, Fernette told police, "his intention was to enter the home and steal more jewelry" but was unable because the homeowners "had moved the jewelry after the first burglary," Trenosky wrote.
The burglaries caused "substantial damage" to the home, police said, with contractors' estimates totaling $1,484 for repairs.
Court documents say Fernette, in his interview with State Police, "gave a confession of his involvements in several burglaries." But the only two that matched police records were the Newfane incidents, the affidavit says, and no other charges have been filed.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.