It all started with missing golf balls.
Hundreds of them, actually.
Over the course of about a month, an estimated 1,500 golf balls had gone missing from the Oakton Driving Range in Park Ridge — taken from the grass during the overnight hours.
The Park Ridge Park District reached out to the police department, requesting additional patrols and help in catching the person responsible. What resulted was an arrest — but for an entirely different crime.
Sgt. Jean Delfosse, Officers Frank Lauria and Jeff Koller, and Deputy Chief David Keller of the Park Ridge Police Department were recognized by the Park District’s Board of Commissioners on Sept. 19 for the arrest of Sean Trathen, 28, of the 10100 block of Palmer in Melrose Park.
Trathen was charged with theft, two counts of criminal damage to property and criminal trespass on Aug. 22 after he was reportedly discovered at the driving range just after midnight.
The events unfolded when Delfosse noticed a suspicious vehicle near the driving range, leading to the discovery of Trathen on the property, police said. An investigation determined that money had been allegedly stolen from a coin-operated vending machine there.
“He had over 100 vending-machine keys inside the vehicle,” Delfosse said of Trathen. “(He) used to work for a vending machine company and he kept the keys with him. He would break into various areas and use the keys to open vending machines and drain them of coins and cash.”
Police had upped their patrols at the driving range after receiving reports of prior break-ins and the discovery of the missing golf balls.
Officers Lauria and Koller responded as back-up and discovered locks on the gates leading to the range had been cut with a pair of bolt cutters left nearby.
Eileen O’Leary-Sorensen, applications support specialist for the Park Ridge Park District, said staff was not aware of the alleged vending machine thefts until police arrested Trathen. Police have not connected Trathen to the disappearing golf balls, but those thefts have since stopped, O’Leary-Sorensen said.
O’Leary-Sorensen credits security cameras installed at the driving range in helping capture the suspect on video. Approximately 50 cameras have been installed at park district sites over the last year, she said.
“We have them in all of our outdoor parking lots at all of our facilities and we have some indoors as well,” O’Leary-Sorensen explained. “It’s been a great opportunity to work with the police department and they met with us to review the videos.”
According to the Lacrosse Tribune in Lacrosse, Wisc., Trathen was arrested in September 2012 for allegedly stealing from a vending machine using keys. Information from the Wisconsin Circuit Court indicates that a bench warrant for Trathen was issued in the case last December.
Federal documents also show that Trathen served time in prison for a 2004 bank robbery charge in Texas.
His next date in Cook County Circuit Court is Oct. 2.