Sunday, June 10, 2007

Teen Who Drove Through L.I. Mall Was Apparently Angry With Ex-Girlfriend

A teenager who smashed his car through the front of a Long Island mall, careening 500 yards past screaming shoppers before blasting through an exit, was apparently angry with an ex-girlfriend who worked there, police said Friday.

"It's a miracle that nobody was injured," said Sgt. Anthony Repalone, a spokesman for the Nassau County police. "You've got kids, women pushing strollers, elderly people walking around. ... It's amazing to me that nobody was injured."

Dwight Thomas, 19, of Amityville, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in First District Court in Hempstead on felony charges of criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and third-degree arson. He was ordered held on $750,000 bond or $350,000 cash bail.

His attorney, Arthur Edwards, told District Court Judge Norman Janowitz that Thomas has a mental condition and is being treated with prescription drugs, but did not specify the condition. "We believe this matter should be resolved in a non-criminal setting," Edwards told reporters after the proceeding. He did not elaborate.

Repalone said that shortly before 7 p.m. Thursday, Thomas drove through the main glass doors of the Westfield Sunrise Mall in Massapequa. He continued past a JCPenney, passed the mall's central court, knocked over a kiosk and then made two left turns before exiting near a McDonald's.

Witnesses told police he was going fast, but Repalone said it was difficult to determine his rate of speed.

Once outside, Thomas got out of the car and was making rambling remarks before an off-duty police officer and mall security restrained him.

"People were running into stores, you know, and screaming," said witness Theresa Schuessler.

The rampage caused about $60,000 worth of damage, Repalone said. One onlooker suffered minor cuts after stepping on broken glass.

It all started, Repalone said, because Thomas was upset with a girlfriend who wanted to end their relationship. The woman, who was not identified, apparently worked at the mall.

"He was going in and talk to her. However, his method of doing so obviously was criminal in nature," Repalone said.

Earlier this week, police said Thomas went to the Broadway Mall in Hicksville and set fire to an SUV he suspected was owned by a man dating his ex-girlfriend. It turned out that the vehicle was owned by someone who has no connection to the case.

The mall, which closed early on Thursday night, was open for business on Friday. Westfield spokeswoman Trish Ketelsen said permanent barriers, called bollards, will placed outside the entrances of the mall "as soon as possible."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.

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