'Twas the night before Christmas, when Kent police became aware of an unusual stirring in Plum Creek Park.
Officers responded to reports of two women and a man cutting down an evergreen tree near the railroad tracks at the park, which is located near Cherry Street and Mogadore Road, about 5:30 p.m. Dec. 24.
When they arrived on the scene, they found tire tracks and the stump of a freshly cut tree. Officers were told to be on the lookout for a white Mercury Sable, the car the suspects were reportedly driving.
Minutes after the tree heist, Brimfield police officer Russell Diehl, who had heard radio traffic about the tree, noticed a white Mercury Sable with an evergreen tree strapped to the roof parked in the Brimfield Plaza parking lot. He detained the car's occupants in the lot, which is located near state Route 43 and Tallmadge Road, and alerted Kent police to his discovery.
"(Diehl) was very aware," Brimfield police Chief David Oliver said. "I think it probably jogged his memory a little bit when he pulled into the plaza and saw the (car) with the Christmas tree attached to it."
Kent police charged Shannon Moran, 41, of Cuyahoga Falls, Tabitha Bradley, 29, of Barberton and Vincent Nelson, 34, of Freedom, with criminal trespassing and receiving stolen property -- all misdemeanors.
Kent police Lt. James Prusha said the group denied stealing the tree, claiming they cut it down from a yard near the border of Brimfield and Kent.
"One of them said her aunt gave them permission to cut down the tree from her yard on Sunnybrook (Road) -- nowhere near the (park)," Prusha said.
Nelson, who was wanted by Akron police for possession of narcotics equipment, was arrested at the scene.
Police issued summonses in lieu of arrest to Bradley and Moran, allowing them to leave the scene with two children under the age of 10 who were in the vehicle when the group was stopped.
Although tree theft is an unusual crime, Prusha said it happens occasionally. He said he caught a man attempting to steal a tree on Gougler Avenue in Kent while working a night shift a few years back.
Oliver said he had never encountered a similar crime in his law enforcement career.
He said the accused showed a "wanton disregard for public property," adding that he questioned their decision-making.
"I think not only are they poor at planning where they select their tree, but they waited a little late in the season to grab it," Oliver said.
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