A New Brunswick man was arrested on June 8 in connection with a series of nightime burglaries in South Brunswick, Princeton Borough and surrounding communities in both Mercer and Middlesex Counties, according to police.
Walter Lee Hastings, 50, was arrested at the Howard Johnson Express hotel located on Rt. 1 in New Brunswick, his last known address. As of Monday morning, he was being held in the Middlesex County Correctional Facility in lieu of $160,000 bail.
"This is every person’s worst nightmare," said South Brunswick Police Chief Raymond Hayducka. "Your family is sleeping at home when someone walks in because a sliding door is left unlocked. This suspect presented a clear and present danger in every home he entered and getting him off the street was the priority of every officer involved. His capture should bring comfort to every resident."
New Brunswick and South Brunswick detectives went to Hastings' motel room at 10 a.m. Friday morning. Police said Hastings attempted to escape out a back entrance, but was caught as he left. As he attempted to flee, New Brunswick detectives found Hastings holding items allegedly stolen from three New Brunswick homes early Friday morning, according to police. The burglaries in New Brunswick were carried out between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., police said.
Hastings is being charged in connection with five occupied overnight residential burglaries, which took place in South Brunswick, Piscataway, and New Brunswick over the past three months. Hastings also remains the primary person of interest in more the a dozen similar burglaries, police said.
South Brunswick Police said the burglaries in the township occurred on Route 27 in the Kingston area and off of Deans Lane.
Incidents of burglary were reported in township homes South Brunswick Police spokesman Sgt. Jim Ryan said the suspect appeared to be targeting items in close proximity to the rear sliding glass door, which included laptops and purses.
South Brunswick and Milltown Police also arrested a suspect on May 23 in connection to the burglaries.
Jihad Boumansour, 50, of Milltown, was charged with receiving stolen property from the burglaries Hastings was charged with. Boumansour was arrested at his residence after police recovered two items stolen from one of the South Brunswick homes. He was released on a summons.
Boumansour, a driver for a taxi company in New Brunswick, told police that he had driven Hastings on several occassions, but Hastings was unable to pay his bill. Instead of payment, Hastings allegedly gave Boumansour a Kindle Fire and a laptop computer stolen during the burglaries. Police said they arrived at Boumansour's residence and witnessed his 7-year-old child playing with the Kindle Fire.
"(Friday’s) arrest is the result of tremendous coordination between all the law enforcement agencies involved," Hayducka said. "Detectives worked hard using surveillance and physical evidence to piece the cases together. I want the residents to know that we were committed to stopping these crimes and capturing this suspect. This suspect can no longer victimize residents of our community."
Princeton Borough and Princeton Township have been plauged by nightime burlgaries and the homes were often accessed through unlocked doors, similar to South Brunswick. The suspect in each of the South Brunswick burglaries was able to gain entry to the residences through unlocked sliding glass doors at the rear of the homes.
"People were nervous in this area because it's unusual to have suspects go into home when it's occupied," Sgt. Ryan said. "With the majority of these homes, the rear sliding doors were unlocked and the suspect didn't have to use force."
Up to a dozen officers were running surveillance on the case at various points of the investigation. Sgt. Ryan said Hastings, who doesn't drive, used public tranportation and taxis to travel to South Brunswick and Princeton.
"Details concerning charges and other related information with respect to the on-going investigations into the burglaries committed in Princeton Borough will be released as the cases continue to evolve," Princeton Borough Police Cpt. Nick Sutter wrote in a press release.
Princeton Township Police has not charged Hastings with any crimes, but Sgt. Mike Cifelli said on Monday that the department is reviewing its open burglary caes.
"If we can tie any of our open cases to this suspect, we will charge him accordingly in the future," he said.
The arrest followed a coordinated investigation by several area police departments, as well as the Mercer and Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Offices.
“This investigation was a joint effort between the police departments of South Brunswick, New Brunswick, Piscataway, Princeton Borough, Princeton Township, Monroe, East Brunswick, Milltown, and the Middlesex and Mercer County Prosecutor's Office," Hayducka said. "Together these agencies pooled their resources to capture the overnight burglar."
The investigation is still ongoing. Anyone with information or who may have seen Hastings in the area is asked to call Det. Ronald Seaman at 732-329-4646.
"The investigation is continuing but we're confident we have the right person," Sgt. Ryan said. "We're confident this arrest will bring an end to these overnight burglaries."