Intuition by a Rutherford County Sheriff's sergeant and a K-9 alert resulted in a driver's conviction for a $1 million jewelry heist and charges in a 1998 double murder.
Sheriff's Sgt. Shawn Applegate of the Interstate Crime Enforcement Unit stopped driver Jason Preston, 35, of Lawndale, Calif., on a traffic violation Jan. 8, 2013 on Interstate 24. Applegate's K-9 partner, Jett, alerted to the presence of marijuana.
Through his investigation, Sgt. Applegate recovered about $300,000 worth of stolen jewelry from the car Preston drove and found he was wanted for aggravated robbery of a mother and son in Culver City, Calif.
After being extradited to California, Preston underwent a DNA test linking him to the double murder of victims Dustin Baity, 20, and Carrie Richter, 18, on Christmas Eve 1998 in Minneapolis.
"Sgt. Applegate took the initiative to go beyond the traffic stop to learn Preston was wanted in California and helped recover the jewelry," Sheriff Robert Arnold said. "His work contributed to identifying Preston as a murder suspect. We commend Sgt. Applegate for his actions."
Minneapolis Police Sgt. Christopher Karakostas, who responded to the scene on Christmas Eve 1998 and later received the case assignment, said Preston was recently indicted on four counts of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder.
This case shows the importance of traffic stops, Sgt. Karakostas said.
"That officer pulled over a killer and didn't even know it between the stop and the investigation in California," Sgt. Karakostas said.
DNA taken from the suspect in California led to the indictments in Minneapolis, he said.
"It feels good to find out the truth and whatever that gets you," Sgt. Karakostas said. "It brings some closure to the family."
Sgt. Applegate said the traffic stop prevented Preston from escaping, allowed the victims to receive the jewelry, led to his conviction and resulted in the indictments for the murders of Baity and Richter.
K-9 Jett played an important role in the traffic stop. Preston told California detectives he thought about running away but didn't think he could get away from Jett.
Preston gave the location of pawn shops in Colorado and Arizona where he pawned the stolen jewelry, allowing detectives to recover some of the jewelry.
Sgt. Applegate and ICE Deputy Bo Davis testified in trials against Prestone and a co-defendant, leading to the convictions. Preston is serving a 35-year sentence.
At the trial, Sgt. Applegate and Deputy Davis met the victim who was tied up along with her son in a home invasion when they stole the jewelry left to her by her father.
"She shook our hands and wanted to thank us and wanted to thank Jett," Sgt. Applegate said. "When I met the lady and she told us how thankful what was done for her, it really gave me a sense of gratitude. It reinvigorated the reason I got this job 15 years ago."