STEPHEN HEMELT — Theft, vandalism at ballfields needs team response

Published 12:20 am Saturday, May 7, 2022

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Criminals do not respect municipal or police lines, so it’s imperative for law enforcement to cultivate productive working relationships with neighboring departments.

Orange County residents are served best when this takes place. The lines in this community crisscross so much that we often stand on the side of the road in one town and look to the other side of the road to see homes and businesses in another municipality.

This means different agencies are forced to respond and investigate cases that spill into separate jurisdictions

That was the case this week when the City of Orange Police Department Detective Division received assistance from the City of West Orange Police Department for some theft arrests.

Orange Police Det. Sgt. Nick Medina explained the apprehensions to Orange Newsmedia this week, noting of the three people arrested (at two locations), the roadway where the arrests occurred is a roadway of the City of Orange, but the house where the suspects were located was within the lines of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

The arrests in question were of concern to the local community because they followed the theft and vandalism that occurred last month at Orange Youth Baseball and Softball League fields.

Orange Newsmedia first shared news of the arrests at on Thursday, and that report is detailed of the front page of the weekend edition. However, we are thankful to Medina for sharing a little more information about how the case unfolded.

Authorities previously told us the thieves stripped copper from electrical boxes and stole lawn equipment sometime on the night of April 14 at the fields on Eddleman Drive in Orange.

Brad Childs of Childs Building Supply, who also serves on the city council, offered to donate time and electrical work to make the repairs. However, the city, which owns Memorial Field, carried insurance to cover the cost. Repairs began under contractor Istre Electric.

That widespread community response was also picked up by law enforcement, with Medina noting quite a bit of personnel played a part in working the case.

“We had a bunch of guys out in the field,” he said. “We were interacting with different people in the area where it occurred. We were following different leads that we attained over the time period.”

Justin Drake, Joshua Hickman and Alexis Wilson

That led to the arrests Wednesday of 41-year-old Justin Drake, 30-year-old Alexis Wilson and 29-year-old Joshua Hickman.

“We arrested two of them, the boyfriend and girlfriend, together,” Medina said. “The other one was just right down the road. We were able to actually do it pretty simultaneously. We made sure we had all three of the warrants secured on the three individuals. We divided and conquered the situation so they couldn’t tip each other off.”

Police noted Hickman and Wilson were picked up together, and Drake is a friend of the couple.

The key to the apprehensions was a swift approach that didn’t create any situations of resisting, which Medina said was accomplished.

At this point, police believe the trio was stealing copper to sell for cash.

“That was kind of another avenue that we were able to obtain and use to our advantage for actually affecting the arrest warrant,” Medina said.

All three suspects in this case were still listed on the Orange County Sheriff’s Office jail roster Friday morning. Law enforcement previously announced the three are facing felony thefts charges, noting the investigation is ongoing.

If the three involved are ultimately found guilty, we hope their punishment matches the crime, which victimized the children and volunteers who make this place special.

We are nothing without teamwork, and we must put on a premium on that effort and its protection.

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher at Orange Newsmedia, which produces the Orange Leader and He can be reached at