Footprints from crime lead to Upper Providence robber's doorstep

NORRISTOWN — An Upper Providence robber’s misstep – leaving behind footprints as he fled the armed holdup of a local convenience store – led police directly to his doorstep.

Zachary Tyler Freil, 19, of the 100 block of Ironbark Court, was sentenced in Montgomery County Court to two to five years in state prison after he pleaded guilty to a felony robbery charge in connection with the Jan. 5, 2014, holdup at the Wawa store on South Collegeville Road in Upper Providence. Judge Carolyn T. Carluccio, who accepted a plea agreement in the case, also banned Freil from the local Wawa and told him to have no contact with three employees who were working at the store at the time of the robbery.

The judge recommended Freil, who told authorities he committed the robbery to support his heroin addiction, be incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Chester, Delaware County, which provides drug treatment programs for offenders.

Freil, who was 18 at the time of the robbery, also is responsible for paying $415 in remaining restitution to the store.

An investigation of Freil began about 11:48 p.m. when employees of the store reported the armed robbery to Upper Providence police. Three employees reported that a male, wearing dark clothing, dark gloves and a dark-colored ski mask with holes exposing the eyes and mouth, entered the store about 11:43 p.m. “armed with a large butcher knife and demanded money,” according to the arrest affidavit filed by Upper Providence Detective Raymond D. Bechtel III.

While two male employees complied with the robber’s demands, the robber stood behind a female employee, “grasping her shoulder with one hand and displaying the knife with the other, placing all of the occupants of the store in fear for their safety,” Bechtel wrote in the criminal complaint. The robber made off with about $1,602, police said.

Police searching the exterior of the store found what appeared to be footprints leading from the store. Authorities relied on Limerick Police Officer Kevin McGuigan and his K9 partner, Flynn, to help track the culprit from the store, court documents indicate. The footprints led directly to the rear of Freil’s residence, which was located a short distance from the Wawa, police said.

After setting up surveillance outside the home, at about 1:22 a.m., police observed Freil pull up to the residence in a Honda vehicle, court documents indicate. Police observed “an extremely large wad of cash bulging out of his front right pants pocket” and observed packets of suspected heroin sticking out of Freil’s left pants pocket, according to the arrest affidavit. Police recovered about $1,187 from Freil’s pocket.

During a subsequent search of Freil’s home, detectives recovered a black-handled butcher knife and a black ski mask and dark clothing that were consistent with the clothing worn by the robber, court documents indicate. Confronted with the evidence, Freil admitted to committing the robbery “due to a heroin addiction,” according to the arrest affidavit.

Freil also pleaded guilty to a charge of possession with intent to deliver heroin in connection with a separate Aug. 19, 2013, incident in Upper Providence. During a search of Freil’s bedroom police found $17,598 in cash, 66 packets of suspected heroin and a digital scale inside a book bag hidden under Freil’s bed, according to the criminal complaint filed by Upper Providence Police Officer Matthew Tobin. The packets of drugs were labeled “Time Line,” according to court papers.

“The packaging was consistent with sales of narcotics. The large amount of cash is also consistent with large sales of narcotics…,” Tobin wrote in court papers.

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