EAST LIVERPOOL - The man arrested on Saturday in connection with the theft of three pleasure boats has a lengthy criminal record and most recently was sentenced to nine months in prison for the theft of East Liverpool City Schools lawncare equipment, reports said.
Clarence Wright, of East Liverpool, was arrested early Saturday morning after allegedly leading East Liverpool and Hancock County authorities on a chase on the Ohio River and several city streets.
Wright was apprehended near West Church Lane and West Fourth Street after officers used a Taser on him. The other suspects in the boat thefts are still at-large, a police spokesman said.
Members of the Ohio Valley Boat Club, from where the boats were taken at 4 a.m. Saturday, said the incident resulted in heavy damage to at least three boats.
"They broke into almost every boat down there," said Stephen Banfield, whose 1988 Galaxy pleasure craft was found in the vicinity of AM&O Towing and towed to the Broadway Wharf. "They knocked the ignition out and hotwired them."
Banfield said his boat sustained serious damage to the front and the hull and took on a lot of water. "It was sinking," he said.
Ed Croxall, who has a house boat at the boat club, said he got a call at 4 a.m. Saturday about the incident and went down to help Banfield retrieve his boat.
"There were probably six or seven boats that they had uncovered and gotten into," Croxall said. "It looked to me like they were either high or drunk or out to do some damage, and they did do quite a bit of damage."
Croxall said the suspects also tried to steal a pickup truck and drove it onto a guardrail.
Banfield said his daughter and son-in-law were camping on Babbs Island when they heard a commotion coming from the direction of the boat club. "They saw (the suspects) ramming boats into other boats," he said. Banfield said his son-in-law got into his boat and tried to chase them down, recovering two boats that were loose and floating in the water.
East Liverpool police contacted the Hancock County Sheriff's Department because most of the Ohio River is within the state of West Virginia, and a boat was deployed.
Hancock County officers then spotted two boats running without lights near Newell. They gave pursuit, and one of the boats was beached at Yellow Creek, a police report said. The suspects fled on foot.
That boat belongs to John Dawson, the school nurse for East Liverpool City Schools, Croxall said. "It was pretty much destroyed. He figures they're going to total it. It was shaking so bad because of damage to the propeller," he said.
The third boat, belonging to James Palmer, was pursued back toward East Liverpool, while a police captain watched the stolen boat pass under the Newell Bridge and toward Parsons Coal, at Jackson Street and West Second Street, the report said.
A few minutes later, the boat headed back toward the Newell Bridge and was beached directly under the bridge, the report said. The captain on the bridge heard the suspects leave the boat, walk through a wooded area and come out on the train tracks, the report said.
Wright was arrested a short time later, but police lost track of his alleged accomplice - a thin white male with blond hair and wearing a dark-colored hoodie, the report said.
Wright was implicated, and later indicted, in the August 2011 theft of $17,000 worth of lawncare equipment owned by East Liverpool City Schools. He pleaded guilty to three counts of receiving stolen property and was sentenced in March 2013 to nine months in prison.
It is unclear how much of his sentence he served or when he was released.