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Police: Man fled after school burglary, run-in with custodian

Union Leader Correspondent

April 14. 2017 12:59AM
The truck allegedly driven by a man suspected of breaking into Barnard School in South Hampton crashed in Merrimac, Mass., during a police pursuit. (Jason Schreiber/Correspondent)

SOUTH HAMPTON — A homeless man claiming to be a music teacher allegedly broke a window at the Barnard School Thursday night, stole instruments and other equipment from a music room and then led police on a pursuit that ended when he crashed his pickup truck in Merrimac, Mass., police said.

Derron Johnson, 42, formerly of West Springfield, Mass., is facing several charges related to the chase in Massachusetts and is expected to be charged in New Hampshire in connection to the break-in.

Police said the break-in startled school custodian Stan Benosky, who came face-to-face with Johnson after he allegedly used a rock to smash a window at the school.

The burglary happened around 8:45 p.m. while Benosky was finishing up his work for the night.

It occurred about a half-hour after a custodian at nearby Kensington Elementary School heard someone jiggling a door before running off, according to Kensington Police Chief Scott Sanders.

Around 9 p.m., police found a loaded shotgun on the side of Trundle Bed Road, which is about 200 yards from Kensington Elementary School. A pill bottle with Johnson’s name on it was also found nearby, Sanders said.

Sanders said Johnson admitted to police that he discarded the shotgun after he got spooked by the school’s custodian.

Kensington police searched the school grounds and the area around where the gun was found and did not locate any other firearms.

A judge ordered Johnson held on $5,000 cash bail at his arraignment on the Massachusetts charges Friday afternoon in Newburyport, Mass., District Court.

Police responded to Barnard School after Benosky, the custodian, became suspicious and called 911.

Benosky said he heard a loud noise while working upstairs and later learned that the alleged burglar had tossed a large rock through a window.

“I just heard a crash and I came down to see what the noise was because I knew nobody else was in the building and when I came down I saw a person leaving the music room,” he said.

Benosky then asked the man if he could help him because he didn’t recognize him.

The man, who police allege was Johnson, told Benosky he was fine and walked outside.

At that point, Benosky said police were notified and showed up moments later.

“Then he came back while I was standing here with the police officer and he walked right by me while I was holding the door open with all the music equipment and said, ‘I’m the music teacher, can you hold the door open?” he said.

Benosky said he knew the man wasn’t the music teacher and told him so. The school’s real music teacher is a woman.

Benosky then told police that the man who had just walked back into the school was the person he saw leaving the building.

Police then began chasing Johnson as he ran through the school and out a side door.

“We made contact with him and then the guy took off,” said Bob Roy, the executive officer in charge for South Hampton police.

Roy said Johnson dropped some of the stolen equipment, got into a truck and fled the school. Police in Amesbury, Mass., were on the lookout for the truck and an officer soon spotted it. The truck was pursued into Newton, and then Merrimac, Mass., where Johnson crashed on Bear Hill Road.

Essex County Assistant District Attorney Maura Bailey said Johnson traveled between 40 and 80 mph and rolled through several stop signs before his truck crashed into a utility pole and lost one of its tires.

Johnson was taken into custody by Amesbury police, who charged him with receiving stolen property, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, marked lanes violation, failing to stop for police, and speeding.

Ken Darsney, the school’s principal, said some of the stolen items included bongo drums, a guitar, an iPad, and a boombox. He said some art supplies were also stolen from the room, which is used for both music and art.

Darsney praised Benosky for his quick-thinking.

“Him being here and getting the police here right away really saved us from what could have been a loss of some valuable equipment,” he said.

Some of the items found in his truck included instruments, a backpack and a camera, Bailey said.

William Hernon, Johnson’s court-appointed attorney, said Johnson is currently homeless and has been out of work since January.

He said Johnson has faced difficult times since his wife filed for divorce.

His father, Jim Johnson, appeared in court and became emotional when he spoke briefly to reporters outside.

He said his son has suffered from mental health issues.

“He hadn’t had a problem for 20 years. All of a sudden everything’s closing in on him,” he said.

Crime South Hampton

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