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Wednesday, 10 May 2006 00:00

Peeping tom caugh in Ingles’ restroom

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Kim Pettit and her husband were on vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains from Minnesota two weeks ago and had popped into the restroom at the Ingle’s grocery store in Bryson City when she heard a noise coming from the ceiling.

She looked around, then up, and saw fingertips lifting the edges of a tile in the drop ceiling. She ran out of the bathroom and told the nearest employee, a woman working at the video counter. Pettit and the employee returned to the restroom. They noticed a ceiling tile was missing over one of the stalls. The employee climbed on a toilet to look up in the hole when she heard breathing in the ceiling. The women put Pettit’s husband in charge of guarding the bathroom doors while they went to call the police.

When the police arrived, Pettit’s husband pointed out a man who had exited the men’s bathroom while he was guarding the door. The man, Dylan Wahnetah, 20, of Cherokee, admitted to the police that he had been in the ceiling over the women’s restroom, according to Bryson City Police reports. Officer Chris Thurman and Assistant Chief Rick Tabor got the man to confess in a police car in the parking lot outside Ingles, according to reports.

Bryson City Detective Dennis Ashe was called in to take pictures of the crime scene. The first order of business was to figure out how Wahnetah had gotten in the ceiling. A supply closet left unlocked in the men’s restroom appeared to be the culprit. Inside the closet, a ceiling tile was missing. Beneath the hole, paper towel boxes had been stacked up, Ashe said.

Ashe climbed up on the paper towel boxes and hoisted himself up into the ceiling “exactly the same way he did it,” Ashe surmised. Once inside the ceiling, Ashe could not believe what he saw.

“There were numerous amounts of alcoholic beverage bottles, about 30 of them,” Ashe said.

There was both beer and wine bottles of all brands. Ashe also found a box of Marlboro Lights, a couple of packs of beef spiced sticks and a box of condoms. The box of condoms had been opened and it appeared there were some missing.

While everything else in the ceiling was covered in a layer of dust, the bottles, box of condoms and other items were not, indicating to Ashe the items had been brought into the ceiling recently. Wahnetah had a beef spice stick in his pocket identical to the ones found in the ceiling, and it was confiscated as evidence, according to police.

As Ashe looked around in the ceiling, he noticed the drop ceiling tiles hung from a grid of metal support beams wide enough to walk on. Wahnetah had likely scooted along the beams through the ceiling until he was above the women’s restroom stalls, Ashe said.

“There were pipes up there that you could hold onto for balance as you walked on the beam,” Ashe said. “There were hand marks all along the pipes where the dust was knocked off.”

Another pile of beer bottles was piled up near the missing ceiling tile above the women’s restroom. Ashe said he did not attempt to walk across the beam to reach the women’s restroom because he was afraid a misstep would send him through the ceiling. Ashe did not search for the condoms that were missing from the box to see if they had possibly been used and left behind in the ceiling.

Police don’t know how long Wahnetah had been going up in the ceiling. The Ingle’s store manager declined to comment, but did say the ceiling had been cleaned out.

Wahnetah was charged with one count of secret peeping and one count of damage to property — both misdemeanors. If it can be proved that Wahnetah watched any children using the bathroom, the charges could be increased.

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