Destruction to a pair of Stafford Township businesses - including a looting and a failed attempt at a fire - is quickly traced to a suspect, apparently with various addresses in Ocean and Monmouth, and apparently with little to hide.

Police car - emergency concept image

Ernest C. Lathom, 39, who police said has had run-ins with them before, resides in Oakhurst, but occasionally stays in Cedar Run, is charged with burglary, theft and criminal mischief for Thursday morning break-ins at the McKinley Avenue Convenience Store, where a park bench sailed through a glass door, and the Villagio Restaurant, where several large landscaping rocks shattered glass front windows..

According to Stafford police and the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, a newspaper deliverer reported the damage at about 6 AM on August 31.

Police, reviewing surveillance video, identified Lathom as the suspect who flung the bench through the convenience store door, walked in, and walked out with cigarettes, cigars, lighters and other items, authorities said.

Investigators said that Lathom walked to Villagio and hurled the rocks through the window. Once inside, police said, Lathom set out several aprons along the back exterior wall, and using cooking grease, tried several times to ignite them, leaving the stone and concrete wall partly blackened.

After assessing the damage, Detective Chris Mulch eyed Lathom, on a bicycle on Route 9, near the Cedar Run Apartments, where police said he is known to stay. He was apprhended without incident and transferred to the Ocean County Jail in Toms River pending a medical and psychological evaluation, police said.

Assisting detectives from Stafford PD and the Prosecutor's Office were the Ocean County Fire Marshall, Sheriff's Department, and Stafford Fire Department. The investigating officer is Stafford PD Dettective Stephen Fessler.

Charges are accusations. Defendants are presumed innocent unless, and until, found guilty in a court of law.

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