Saturday, August 20, 2011

Robbery on the river

Thieves burglarize, vandalize Pickwick Belle at Ingalls; losses total $23,000
By Ronnie Thomas
The Decatur Daily

Joe Colley, owner of American Steemer in Decatur, cleans the carpet on the lower deck, which was soaked by fire extinguishers in the overnight assault. The Pickwick Belle is cruising out of Decatur this summer as its owners gauge the suitability of moving the operation from Florence to the River City.

Thieves made off with a flat screen, a sound system and other items that totaled $23,000 after they broke into the Pickwick Belle on Thursday night or early Friday while it was docked at Ingalls Harbor.

The thieves also vandalized the 90-foot paddle wheel riverboat before making off with the 55-inch flat-screen television, two 21-inch TV sets, the sound system and cash, authorities said.

“We only had about $200 in cash” on the boat, said Jimmy Kennedy, cruise director. “We kept it in the microwave in the kitchen. It appeared they might have tried to take the microwave, too, but it was bolted down.”

The thieves rendered the dining room unfit for use by soaking the carpet and chairs with a fire extinguisher.

But the boat still plowed the Tennessee River on Friday.

“We couldn’t serve out of (the dining room), but we were not going to let someone ruin our party,” said Tami Reist, director of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We cruised and ate out on the top deck.”

Kennedy said Pickwick’s operators do not keep security personnel onboard because the boat has no sleeping quarters.

“Police patrol the area frequently,” he said. “Tami told me she has spoken with the mayor (Don Stanford), and he vows to beef up security.”

Sgt. John Crouch, spokesman for the Decatur Police Department, said the intruders boarded the boat from the pier and went to the river side to gain entrance.

Windows broken

Kennedy said they broke a window in a door that leads to the dining room.

While Crouch could not say whether one or more persons were involved, Kennedy believes it took at least two people to lift the large-screen TV over the railing at the pier.

Erin Mooneyham, who works for The Casual Gourmet, a Decatur catering service, said she and fellow employees got the unpleasant surprise when they arrived at the boat Friday morning.

“We were about to load the food for the cruise when the cops stopped us,” she said. “Then we found out what happened, and they were still checking for evidence. But we only had to wait a few minutes to get the food out of the hot van and into the kitchen. Then we tried to help everybody with the cleanup. There was a blanket of white dust on every surface.”

Reist said Kennedy called her about 9:15 a.m. and told her what happened. She said Paul Floyd and his crew came from the Decatur Parks and Recreation Department to assist, placing chairs on the pier to dry out.

Pickwick Belle Capt. Mike Tyner said fortunately the perpetrators did not damage anything in the pilot house. “We were supposed to depart for the cruise at 11:30 and we were only about 10 minutes late,” he said. “We can’t thank the people of Decatur and the city officials enough for their help.”

On schedule

The Pickwick remained on schedule, pulling back into Ingalls Harbor at 1:30 p.m.

Kennedy said the crew completed its cruise last Sunday and went home to Savannah, Tenn.

“The boat was here all that time and no problems,” he said. “We returned Thursday and worked on the boat, cleaning it up. We left at 5 p.m. We discovered the problems when we arrived at 9 (Friday) morning.”

Hank Mabe of Decatur, who made his first trip on the boat, said the inconveniences didn’t bother him.

“They did a good job cleaning up,” he said. “We had a good time cruising and eating on top.”

Ann Eyster, 88, and her traveling companion, Jackie Harris, 44, both of Decatur, said they enjoyed the experience.

“I’ve ridden it before and loved it then, too,” Eyster said. Harris said she made her first trip but “would love to do it again.”

Larry Brewer accompanied his parents, Calvin and Lucy Brewer, all of Hartselle.

“This was our first trip,” Lucy Brewer said. “I hope they decide to make Decatur their home.”

There were 33 people onboard.

Kennedy said the boat can accommodate 72 people for dinner and 149 for sightseeing.

Cruising today

Cruises are on tap again today and Sunday. The Pickwick Belle will remain in Decatur through Sept. 10 as the company tries to determine if it wants to relocate here from Florence.

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