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Nick Stover works on boarding up the front door of the vandalized Danville-Neel Elementary School on Wednesday.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Nick Stover works on boarding up the front door of the vandalized Danville-Neel Elementary School on Wednesday.

Schools damaged
in crime spree

2 teens arrested in 2-county
vandalism, burglaries

By Kristen Bishop
and Bayne Hughes
kbishop@decaturdaily.com 340-2443

A Hartselle man and a Speake teen went on a crime spree through Lawrence and Morgan counties early Wednesday morning, vandalizing two schools, playing demolition derby with a stolen mini-bus and burglarizing several stores, said law enforcement.

Authorities identified Dennis Edward Coleman, 18, of 202 Wayward Ave., Hartselle, and a 16-year-old teen as the alleged criminals, based on surveillance video from Speake School.

According to Lawrence County Sheriff's Department Investigator Lt. Tim McWhorter, the two started their rampage in Danville.

"Basically, from what I gathered, they were just riding around, and one of them said, 'Let's go get into some crazy stuff,' " McWhorter said. "There was really no method to the madness."

The "crazy stuff" started when Coleman and the teen stole a mini-bus Wednesday morning just after midnight in Danville, said McWhorter

The key was left in the bus, allowing them to easily steal the vehicle.

Surveillance video

Keith Clark, a shop foreman for Morgan County Schools, said surveillance cameras at Danville-Neel Elementary School showed the 18-passenger bus speeding backwards into the school's front door at about 12:27 a.m. and then racing forward to ram a brick planter.

The bus hit the school's front door hard enough to go about 10 feet into the building, knocking aluminum doors and frame about 15 feet.

The bus then knocked down about 160 feet of awning on the east side of the building before bashing a small pickup several times and leaving school property, traveling east on Danville Road.

The camera did not get any clear shots of the bus's occupants.

Next, the driver took the bus to South Poole Road and allegedly smashed into the front porch of Doug Poole's home, about 2 miles from the school. The driver left the bus on the porch, and a witness saw him jumping into a white pickup and speeding away.

Coleman and the teen allegedly continued their rampage in Danville, burglarizing stores including the Pumpkin Center Farm and Home Store, where they stole several cartons of cigarettes, said McWhorter.

The Morgan County Sheriff's Department is investigating other crimes in Danville that may be linked to the crime spree.

Lawrence County crimes

Coleman and the teen then crossed into Lawrence County where they struck Wiggins Grocery in Speake, said McWhorter.

They entered the store by breaking the windows, he said. Coleman and the teen allegedly stole several cartons of cigarettes, cigars, drinks, logging chains and bolt cutters.

They also allegedly vandalized Speake School, where they allegedly broke a bus windshield and mirrors on four buses, then broke into a classroom and damaged a computer, said McWhorter.

According to Lawrence County Superintendent Dexter Rutherford, no property was missing from the school.

Coleman and the juvenile then broke into TNT Power Sports in Moulton, reportedly looking for a 4-wheeler to steal, but emerged empty handed, McWhorter said.

Undeterred, the pair went to Boyds Auto Sales at Morgan Street and Alabama 157 in Moulton and stole a Volkswagen Beetle and a compound bow, said McWhorter.

"They took the Beetle back over into Morgan County where the juvenile dropped off Coleman," he said. "(The juvenile) supposedly took the vehicle to his place and later dropped it off at a forestry road on Lawrence County 196. He just pushed it off a hillside."

Cracking the case

Investigators with the Morgan and Lawrence County sheriff's departments got a general description of Coleman and the teen from surveillance videos at Speake School.

In the video, one of them was carrying bolt cutters that likely were the ones stolen from Wiggins Grocery, said McWhorter.

"We then contacted deputies to let them know the description," said McWhorter.

"From that point, once we got our hands on the juvenile, everything snowballed, and we were able to solve the string of cases."

Lawrence County sheriff's deputies took the teen into custody at about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

They picked up Coleman where he works at Copeland Corp. in Hartselle at about 6:30 p.m.

McWhorter said the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department plans to charge both with two counts of third-degree burglary.

"There's also going to be some criminal mischief charges and some theft charges, but I don't know the degree at this time," he said.

Coleman and the teen also face charges in Moulton and Morgan County.

Coleman remained in Lawrence County Jail on Wednesday evening. Bond had not been set.

The teen was transferred to the Tennessee Valley Detention Center.

Price of 'crazy stuff'

Initial estimates given to Morgan Sheriff's Department investigators include $40,000 in damage to the Danville-Neel Elementary School and $10,000 to Poole's porch.

Clark said the $62,000 mini-bus, used to transport handicapped students, and an old pickup that a bus aide used are total losses.

Morgan County Schools are on spring break this week, and Clark said the damage would not prevent classes from resuming Monday. Students and staff will have to use side doors until crews can replace the aluminum framing and doors.

The damage at Speake School didn't keep students from starting class on time Wednesday morning, but some buses had to run double routes, said Rutherford.

Lawrence County Schools maintenance personnel repaired the damage to the building Wednesday afternoon. A spare school bus will replace the one with the damaged windshield until it can be repaired, said Rutherford.

He estimated the total cost of the bus damage at about $1,000. Daily Staff Writer Seth Burkett contributed to this story.

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