Earlier this week, after his business was broken into for the third time in less than a year, Peter Meller planned to install scissor gates on the door of Salkum Super Market.
The gates aren’t the first security measure Meller has installed since the first burglary this year, when two unidentified suspects broke into the business, stole cigarettes and tried to take the store’s ATM at 4:35 a.m. on Jan. 8, 2022.
He previously installed bollards and has taken to emptying the ATM every night, leaving it open so potential thieves can see there was nothing to be gained from taking the ATM.
“It just seems so ugly,” he said of the security measures he’s installed, “and I wish (it was) unnecessary for where it is, but I get it. There’s crime everywhere. Doesn’t matter if you’re rural or in the city, there’s crime.”
The day after Meller’s business was burglarized in January, the same two suspects reportedly hit three other businesses in East Lewis County: Ethel Market and Sports, Silver Creek Buck Stop and Mineral Market.
The burglars stole some cigarettes and a till containing a few hundred dollars from the Mineral Market, which left its ATM open to show there were no contents, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.
Video reportedly shows burglars unsuccessfully attempting to remove Silver Creek Buck Stop’s ATM with a rope and try to access Ethel Market and Sports’ ATM, according to the sheriff’s office.
“In each burglary, there were two males and a blue passenger car, believed to be the same individuals using force entry on the front door of the businesses,” said a spokesperson for the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office in a recent email to The Chronicle. “In some video they were able to get a plate, but it returned to a 2013 blue Dodge Dart stolen out of Pierce County.”
Investigations into those January burglaries have “hit dead ends,” said a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, so the investigations are “suspended unless new information comes forward.”
After the string of burglaries in January, crime was relatively quiet in the area for a few months, until there was another string of burglaries on June 20.
At 3:34 a.m. that morning, Salkum Super Market reported another break-in.
“The doors were chained together, because of the previous (burglary). They just drove right through,” Meller said.
This time, the burglars used a vehicle and strap to try and remove the ATM but were unsuccessful, according to the sheriff’s office.
At 5:15 a.m. that same morning, The Carlisle restaurant in Onalaska reported a burglary where the suspects did successfully remove the ATM with a strap.
“Both those cases appear to be linked to a Chehalis case and are still active pending forensic testing results,” said a sheriff’s office spokesperson. “No information at this point indicating they are the same suspects as January.”
About four months later — soon after Meller spent $30,000 replacing the glass door that was broken in the previous burglary — Salkum Super Market was hit again.
At 5:15 a.m. on Oct. 15, suspects reportedly broke into the convenience store and attempted to remove the ATM’s anchoring bolts “but not in the same manner as before,” according to the sheriff’s office. The burglars were unsuccessful in removing the ATM, but stole cigarettes on their way out.
“This case is still active and it is unknown if this is related to either the January or June events,” said the spokesperson for the sheriff’s office.
A residence on Willow Lane in Salkum was also recently burglarized, “but the deputy could tell from surveillance it was not the same suspects responsible,” according to the sheriff’s office.
While the sheriff’s office is continuing its investigations into the string of burglaries, Meller and his customers are concerned about the continued crime in the area.
“They seem to be doing whatever they want,” he said of the burglars that have frequented the area. “And it’s weird to me that they’re not getting caught. I don’t want to place blame on anybody, but it’s getting very frustrating … I’ve got a lot of customers that are pretty concerned lately.”
Anyone with information on the burglaries is encouraged to contact the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office non-emergency line at 360-748-9286.