published Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Thousands of cigarettes stolen from Catoosa County convenience stores


* Dec. 31 — Kwik Serve Market

* Dec. 21 — CITGO

* Dec. 13 — Pit Stop Food Store

* Nov. 13 — Mega Star

* Nov. 11 — Sunset Market

* Oct. 26 — Lucky Al’s

Source: Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office incident reports, 2011

Four days before Christmas, someone threw a large rock into the front window of one of Mike Merchant’s Ringgold, Ga., convenience stores and stole $4,000 worth of cigarettes.

Then, on New Year’s Eve, Merchant got a call in the early morning hours that another of his stores had been burglarized, but this time the thieves had driven a car through the front door before taking hundreds of boxes of cigarettes and the cash register.

“When you have two break-ins in two weeks, that’s not funny,” Merchant said. “It’s a cause of concern.”

Now Merchant says he is installing acrylic windows to replace the old ones at his Ringgold stores to try to prevent thieves from breaking in again.

So far the Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office has not identified anyone responsible in a string of burglaries in the last two months at gas station/convenience stores near the Tennessee state line, officials said.

But Capt. Scott Jordan said authorities believe at least two groups of people are responsible for the break-ins.

The main items stolen have been hundreds of boxes of cigarettes, authorities said.

At least six stores in the northern corner of Catoosa County were burglarized between the end of October through December, Jordan said.

Between $2,000 and $6,000 in cigarettes was estimated to have been stolen in each burglary, and some stores sustained hundreds of dollars in damage, incident reports show.

Most of the surveillance video footage from the incidents is poor quality, Jordan said.

All of the burglarized stores are located in two of the four county sectors that the sheriff’s office patrols, Jordan said. The department has tried to keep another officer in the area to help patrol, but resources don’t always allow the extra manpower, he said.

Meanwhile, Merchant said he and other store owners are worried.

“I’ve had stores here in Ringgold for a year and never had the slightest issue,” he said.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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