Monday, March 17, 2008

Fort Wayne suspect braves storm to see 'teen'

Greeted by police in Ohio instead

By Abby Slutsky
The Journal Gazette

A Fort Wayne man drove about 260 miles “through a hell of a snowstorm” to meet a 14-year-old girl at an Ohio restaurant, police said.

Instead, Stephen A. Pritchard, 55, of the 10000 block of Pin Oak Circle, was arrested Friday after getting out of his car near a Massillon, Ohio, restaurant.

Massillon is about 54 miles south of Cleveland and, like most of the Buckeye State, was pummeled by a storm that dumped between 12 and 24 inches of snow beginning Friday.

Pritchard had been communicating online with undercover officers from the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force for a little more than a month, Massillon police Detective Bobby Grizzard said.

Pritchard believed he was chatting with a 14-year-old girl, and Friday was to be the first in-person meeting, Grizzard said.

The conversations were taking place in an online chat room, but Pritchard did not approach the “girl” through a Web site like , Grizzard said.

He did not identify which chat room Pritchard was frequenting.

Started in 1999, the task force is an alliance of city, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies. The group works to apprehend and prosecute Internet child predators and child pornographers, as well as helping educate parents and children about Internet safety, according to the group's Web site.

Pritchard was the 97th person arrested by the task force since its inception, Grizzard said.

When Pritchard arrived in Massillon, there was already 5 to 6 inches of snow on the ground, Grizzard said.

“He drove through a hell of a snowstorm to get here, because we were getting pelted,” he said.

Pritchard is charged with attempted unlawful sex with a minor, attempted child endangerment and importuning, which is soliciting a minor by means of a telecommunications device, police said.

Pritchard is not listed as a sexual offender, Grizzard said.

He was being held at the Stark County Jail in lieu of $150,000 bail, according to jail records.

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