The BBQ Bandit

By Ron Burtz

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Illegal use of fireworks was the least of concerns of the Custer County Sheriff’s Office over the Fourth of July holiday week. Keeping deputies hopping, however, were incidents like a drunken brawl at a Custer resort, a reported abduction resulting in an arrest on totally unrelated charges and the strange saga of the Barbecue Bandit.

On Monday, July 1, Sheriff Marty Mechaley said a Rapid City man walked into Lynn’s Dakotamart in Custer and began to fill a cart with all the makings of a Fourth of July barbecue—charcoal, fresh meat, frozen meat, watermelon, salad dressing and other items totaling nearly $400. Then, according to store employees from what they observed on security cameras, the subject calmly pushed the cart out the door — bypassing the checkout counter — loaded the loot into the back of a black pickup and proceeded to drive off, jumping the curb on 8th Street in the process. 

Then, in an apparent attempt to avoid the main streets, he drove west in the alley between Mt. Rushmore Road and Washington Street, continuing until he ran out of alley in the parking lot of the Custer County Courthouse, home of the sheriff’s office. Mechaley says the man apparently didn’t realize the alley is blocked by the courthouse.

Ironically, as the subject pulled into the parking lot, he was met by Lt. Jeff McGraw who happened to be headed out in his patrol vehicle on his way to the airport. 

Not aware of the situation at the grocery store at the time, McGraw didn’t know to stop the vehicle, but afterwards recalled that the driver seemed to hunker down behind the steering wheel as if he didn’t want to be seen. 

McGraw continued on his way to the airport and the pickup whipped around in the parking lot and sped out of town on Hwy. 385 toward Hill City, but not before courthouse security cams caught pictures of both the driver and the pickup’s license plate. At some point in this timeline, store employees had figured out what happened and placed a call to dispatch. 

“By the time I got the call about the theft and got back to town from the airport, he was probably already in Pennington County,” lamented McGraw.

With the subject’s face and license plate captured on multiple security cameras, Mechaley said officers were able to easily identify the suspect, even finding a matching photo of the man on the sex offender registry.  

Mechaley said the Custer County State’s Attorney has the paperwork in the case and charges are pending, which will no doubt include petty theft. 

The day after the holiday at 9:16 p.m., deputies responded to a report of a woman possibly being held against her will at a building on Aviation Way near the airport. 

Mechaley said the call apparently originated with a Facebook message from the supposed victim to a witness. 

However, when deputies arrived at the location, they quickly determined the report was unfounded. 

Mechaley said the alleged abductor had taken the woman by motorcycle to a building where he had a right to be, but, because she was unable to drive the motorcycle, she alleged she could not leave.

Deputies didn’t have to leave empty-handed, however. As a result of the investigation, Aaron Hinkle of Spalding, Neb., was arrested and charged with violating a protection order, unauthorized possession of a controlled drug (believed to be methamphetamine) and unauthorized ingestion of a controlled drug. He is currently sitting in the Pennington County Jail.

The holiday revelry wasn’t over, however, and in the wee hours of Friday morning a bizarre and complicated brawl broke out at a set of rental cabins east of Custer.

Deputies responded to the scene at about 3 a.m. after a call came in from a man complaining about bleeding from the mouth. On their way to the call, officers received a second call from a person unrelated to the incident reporting a domestic violence situation was in progress. 

Upon arriving, deputies encountered a man with a swollen nose and blood on his face. 

After interviewing the combatants (who told conflicting stories), as well as other witnesses, deputies were able to put together the following scenario:

The man with the bloody nose reported he and his girlfriend were at one of the cabins and the girlfriend’s daughter had come in, punched him in the face and then ran off to another cabin.

Pursuing the daughter to another cabin, the man began yelling at her, prompting her brother to come out and get involved. The two men exchanged blows and in the midst of the melee the girl ran off into the night. 

After unsuccessful attempts to locate the young woman, deputies called in Custer County Search and Rescue. However, instead of going into the woods the girl apparently made her way into town where she was later found by her grandparents at a convenience store and given a ride back to the scene. 

In interviews with the deputies, the brother revealed that the young woman had initiated the fight with her mother’s boyfriend because she had witnessed them engaging in some sort of “hillbilly business.” 

Because of the disturbance to guests staying at nearby cabins, the boyfriend, brother and sister — all residents of Rapid City and Box Elder — were cited with disorderly conduct and also banned from the property. 

The strange goings-on continued into the following week with the sheriff’s office reporting on Wednesday, July 10, that at 7 a.m. dispatch received a report of a man kicking in a door and assaulting a person at a residence off Hwy. 40 in the eastern part of the county. The sheriff’s office and Custer State Park law enforcement responded and arrested a 45-year-old man for burglary, assault and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Meanwhile, Mechaley and McGraw said calls related to illegal fireworks use were relatively few compared with previous years, speculating that perhaps the abundant rain had something to do with it.