CHATHAM – Hoping to send a message to would-be thieves and pranksters, officials this week filed charges against a 21-year-old man who allegedly stole one of the sharks from the Sharks in the Park art exhibit.
On Monday, police charged Kevin J. Martin of Bellingham with wanton destruction of property, a misdemeanor, after an incident in the early morning hours of July 4 that saw the allegedly stolen shark recovered following a downtown chase.
Martin, accompanied by two other men, was caught on surveillance video carrying the Chatham Cookware shark away from the lawn of the Eldredge Public Library, where the shark display was moved two weeks ago. It's the third time this summer that sharks have been taken from the annual art exhibit sponsored by the Chatham Merchants Association. All three have been recovered. The Chatham Cookware shark, painted by Neil Collins, was slightly damaged but was repaired and reinstalled alongside the other 50-plus sharks.
Shortly before 1 a.m., Alex Hillman, 23, whose mother, Janice Rogers, organized the exhibit for the merchants association, was preparing to take chairs out to Main Street in anticipation of Tuesday's parade when his girlfriend, Kendall Gross, glanced at the monitor showing the security camera feed from the library lawn and saw someone walking away holding one of the sharks.
Hillman said he rushed out of the Main Street apartment and confronted the three men on Bearse's Byway as they were trying to climb a fence separating the road from The Gallery property. He took the shark away from the man who was holding it. Initially, the men denied taking the shark, but Hillman told them the police were on their way.
“He starts running right away,” Hillman said of the man who had been holding the shark. Hillman took off in pursuit, despite a sprained ankle. “I wasn't going to let him go.” Unfortunately, after jumping a wall, Hillman lost the man in heavy bamboo at the back of the property.
He returned to the other two men, who were calling their friend's name. When the police arrived, they denied taking the shark, but Gross showed the police the video footage on her smartphone.
“They were definitely caught red-handed,” Hillman said.
The men didn't seem to take the matter seriously until the police showed up, he added.
“They seemed to have really zero care about what they were doing. They couldn't care less, honestly,” he said.
Rogers said she was disappointed that another shark had been taken, despite the security precautions – including the video monitoring and use of GPS trackers on some of the sharks.
“It's discouraging,” she said. “These guys didn't just take it and run. They took the time to bend the poles into a pretzel so they could carry it away.” Rogers said the merchants are considering additional security measures.
Hillman said the men appeared to realize they were being recorded. In the security tape they are wearing hats, but by the time the police arrived they'd thrown them aside.
“The real issue, I think, is that until someone is seriously charged for this, people are going to continue to think they can do it,” he said.
Sharks have been taken from the exhibit each year it's been held. All but one have been found and returned.
The merchants association holds an online auction at sharksinthepark.net for the five-foot sharks to raise money for the programs it sponsors throughout the year.