by Stafford PD
On Thursday, August 31, 2017, at approximately 6:00 AM, the Stafford Township Police Department responded to McKinley Avenue Plaza located at 100 McKinley Avenue, Manahawkin, N.J. 08050 for a report of Criminal Mischief to the McKinley Avenue Convenience Store, and the Villagio Restaurant. The damage to these two businesses was reported by a local paper delivery man.
Preliminary investigation indicated that an actor – later identified as Ernest C. Lathom 39 years old of Oakhurst, New Jersey – had thrown a park bench through the front glass door of the McKinley Avenue Convenience Store. The park bench had been located on the property of the McKinley Avenue Plaza. Lathom then entered inside of the convenient store, and stole several items, which consisted mostly of cigarettes, cigars, and lighters.
Lathom then went over to the Villagio Restaurant, and threw several large, decorative landscaping river rocks through the restaurant’s glass windows, and entered inside the restaurant. While inside the restaurant, Lathom took several aprons, and attempted to use them along with cooking grease to light the rear exterior wall of the building on fire. Lathom was unsuccessful as the building consists of concrete and stone, but he did manage to blackened the rear exterior wall.
The Stafford Township Police Department’s Detective Bureau reviewed the video surveillance from the McKinley Avenue Convenience Store to identify Lathom as the actor. The department had had previous, but limited contact with Lathom. After clearing the scene, Det. Chris Mulch spotted Lathom riding his bicycle on Route 9 in the area of the Cedar Run Apartments, which is where he was known to occasionally stay, and he was taken into custody by Det. Mulch and Ptl. Luna without incident.
Lathom was charged with Burglary, Theft and Criminal Mischief to the McKinley Avenue Convenience Store, and three counts of 3rd Degree Criminal Mischief to the Villagio Restaurant, and will subsequently be transported to the Ocean County Jail pending a medical and psychological evaluation.
The Stafford Township Police Department was assisted by the following agencies: Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, Ocean County Fire Marshall, Ocean County Sheriff’s Department CSI Unit, and the Stafford Township Fire Department.
Detective Stephen Fessler of the Stafford Township Police Department’s Detective Bureau is the investigating Officer.
As policy, the Stafford Township will not release the photos of any defendants. Also, the media and the public are reminded that criminal charges are merely accusations, and that all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Editor’s Note: Latham has since been released from incarceration.