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Fifth person charged in scheme to steal late WKU provost's jewelry

With his case recently sent to a grand jury, a fifth person faces criminal charges in connection with what police called a plot to steal a safe containing a valuable jewelry collection amassed by the late Western Kentucky University Provost Barbara Burch.

Marshall D. Belew II, 51, of Mount Juliet, Tenn., is charged along with four other people in the plot, which police say culminated in three people disguised as delivery drivers forcing their way into the Smallhouse Road home where the safe was kept July 13, injuring someone who worked in the home and restraining her with zip ties before using a moving dolly to steal the safe, which contained hundreds of pieces of jewelry worth more than $1 million, according to court records.

Described by Bowling Green Police Department Detective Tim Buss during a hearing Friday in Warren District Court as the owner/operator of American Jewelry in Brentwood, Tenn., Belew is charged with complicity to first-degree robbery, complicity to kidnapping, complicity to second-degree assault and complicity to theft by unlawful taking ($10,000 or more).

The case against Belew was bound over to a grand jury at the end of Friday’s hearing by Warren District Judge Brent Potter.

Belew was arrested March 2 after an BGPD and FBI investigation.

Buss said search warrants were executed this month at American Jewelry stores in Brentwood and Mount Juliet, as well as Belew’s residence, and that Belew told police he wished to speak with an attorney before making any statements to law enforcement.

Belew’s arrest followed the arrests in December of four other people accused of involvement:

  • Nicholas Enrique Cruz Palacios, 41, and Javier Nunez, 41, both of Old Hickory, Tenn., on charges of kidnapping, first-degree robbery and second-degree assault.
  • Jeffery Weisman, 70, and Patricia Weisman, 64, both of Bowling Green, on charges of complicity to first-degree robbery, complicity to kidnapping, complicity to second-degree assault and complicity to theft by unlawful taking.

At last week’s court hearing, Buss said the woman who was reportedly attacked told police one of the intruders displayed a firearm before she was knocked down and restrained, and she suffered leg and ankle injuries. The woman was able to free herself and contact her boyfriend, who then called police.

Buss testified that accessed security camera footage from the area that showed the suspects traveling in a white cargo van and dressed in uniforms that made them appear to be delivery workers.

Police analyzed audio from some of the footage and learned that one of the robbers was using the speaker phone function on a cellphone with someone who was reportedly talking them through the robbery, Buss said.

“He appears to be directing the subject (in the house) to the location of the safe,” Buss said in a video recording from the preliminary hearing.

The BGPD contacted the FBI’s Bowling Green field office to assist in the investigation, and that took the form of analyzing cell tower activity in the area of the home around the time of the robbery.

That investigation produced two numbers of interest to police, who then examined the activity for those two numbers between June 29 and Aug. 3, 2020, Buss said.

Through further investigation, police confirmed that one of the phone numbers was registered to Nunez, Buss said.

During surveillance of Nunez’s residence, police observed a van that appeared to be the same van used in the robbery, according to court records.

Police executed a search warrant at Nunez’s residence on Dec. 15, and Nunez and Cruz Palacios made statements implicating themselves in the robbery, court records show.

Buss testified last week that Jeffery Weisman was a jewelry salesman who knew Burch.

“(Weisman) sold a large amount of Burch’s collection to her over the years and had knowledge of her residence and that the items would be in the safe,” Buss said in court.

According to an arrest citation, Jeffery and Patricia Weisman had knowledge of the safe’s contents and the security features of the house and took part in planning the robbery and hiring the people who carried it out.

Police examined Nunez’s cellphone and found a contact listed as “Sonny.”

On the day after the robbery, shortly after it occurred, Buss said Nunez received a text message from the number for “Sonny” that said, “Just got it open. No cash, lots of jewelry. I’ll call you in a minute.”

Buss said that analysis of phone activity tied to the number over a period of several months indicated “a lot of communication” with the Weismans, who denied any knowledge of who owned the phone number.

Further investigation showed frequent activity associated with the phone number at Belew’s jewelry stores and his residence, Buss said.

Questioned by Belew’s attorney, Dennie Hardin, Buss said no co-defendants gave information to police that directly implicated Belew.

Buss also said that none of the stolen jewelry has been recovered and estimates of its value were provided by relatives.

Burch graduated from WKU in 1959 and returned to the university in 1996 as its vice president of academic affairs. In 1998, she was named provost and held both positions until 2010.

Burch later worked on developing WKU’s Educational Leadership Doctoral Program. She died in January 2020 at age 81.

– Follow courts reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.

Spencer's Coffee, Lost River Pizza headline new dining options in WKU Commons project

Western Kentucky University’s new WKU Commons project – a $35 million investment to revamp the old Helm Library into a study and dining venue – will highlight local eateries like Spencer’s Coffee and Lost River Pizza Co. when it opens for students this fall.

WKU President Timothy Caboni announced the WKU Commons’ restaurant offerings during a news conference Tuesday. As he spoke, work on the project to overhaul the 86-year-old building unfolded as welders toiled and other workmen hauled steel beams into place.

“This is another way in which we’re building a community in such a way that it supports retention efforts,” Caboni said. “We know that students are more likely to succeed when they have a deep, personal relationship with faculty and staff ...

“One of the reasons we built this at the top of the Hill is so it has ease of use for those who are studying and taking courses at the top of the Hill, but also for those faculty and staff who also can make their way over to student meetings and have student office hours right here at the top of the Hill.”

The hybrid work and social space is WKU’s latest project to modernize its facilities in an era when dwindling numbers of college-bound students have spurred the university to go farther afield for recruitment and entice out-of-state students with state-of-the-art amenities.

Designs for the WKU Commons project show the west facade of the current building replaced with a more open-faced glass wall that makes the inviting interior of the building visible from the outside. A large stairway between the first and second floors features seating areas that branch out from the stairway, and a wide opening on the third floor also makes parts of the second and first floors visible.

The first floor will be devoted to dining mixed with seating and group space, while the second floor features a coffee bar and has a large opening to the third floor, which is for academic space.

Other dining options Caboni announced include Panda Express, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Rising Rolls, a fast casual eatery in the mold of Panera Bread.

In addition, Caboni said the WKU Commons will also feature a rotating offering of dining venues that change out every six weeks or so. The first batch includes Tavolino’s Fresh Italian Fare, Ever Grains’ Food for Wellness and Barbecue District’s Fire It Up Grill.

Eventually, the adjacent Garrett Conference Center, which acts as the campus dining venue at the top of WKU’s hill, will be razed and converted into a greenspace.

The new WKU Commons project seeks to blend the old and the new: the building’s 1930s-era steel superstructure is visible inside and the jump circle from the old basketball court that the library was built on top of will remain visible when the project is finished.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdaily news.com.

BG native Honan again in right place to save a life

Her father, Harold McGuffey, calls Harper McGuffey Honan “a take-charge type of person.”

Others the Bowling Green native and San Francisco resident have come in contact with in recent years might use different appellations. Hero and life-saver come to mind.

Less than three years after the pediatric nurse used her CPR training to resuscitate a man who had stopped breathing while on a commercial flight, Honan this month again found herself in position to save someone from a life-threatening situation, this time while on an outing at the beach.

“I had taken my 10-year-old surfing,” Honan said of the March 7 incident at Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica, Calif. “I saw a woman swimming close to shore. I kept my eye on her and noticed she was getting farther out.

“It looked like she had gotten into a deep pool and the rip current was taking her out. I told my daughter to wait on shore, and I paddled out on my surfboard.”

Honan, who estimates that the woman was in her 60s, could see she was in distress.

“Her husband was on shore, and he was very scared,” Honan said.

A member of the swimming and cross country teams at Bowling Green High School in the early 1990s, Honan paddled out to the woman.

“I could tell she needed help,” Honan said. “She looked scared. She grabbed the surfboard and we swam in. We saw another person with a surfboard, so we joined together and finally got her in to shore.”

Honan credits longtime Western Kentucky University swimming and diving coach Bill Powell – her childhood swimming teacher – with laying the foundation that allowed her to help the woman.

“He (Powell) deserves some credit,” she said. “It was hard swimming against the current. It was all his doing.”

She said the woman was so tired that “she had a hard time walking” once they made it back to shore.

Honan called her “a lovely lady” but said she doesn’t know the name of the person she saved from a life-threatening situation.

“Her husband was there, and I ran off to see about my daughter,” she said. “We didn’t exchange names or anything.

“This one really did shake me up. I kept seeing her face and didn’t sleep well that night. But I’m glad it turned out the way it did.”

Such incidents have become all too common for Honan. She recalled another recent surfing outing when she encountered a youngster who had wandered too far from shore on his boogie board.

“I swam in with him,” said Honan, 45. “It’s weird how things like this keep happening to me.”

And not just in the water.

Honan, who is required to periodically update her CPR training, was called on to help with medical emergencies on flights three times over a two-year period.

The most serious was her 2018 resuscitation of the man on a flight from Nashville to Phoenix. In two previous in-flight incidents, Honan helped a man who was having a seizure and a youngster who was adjusting to a tracheostomy and having difficulty breathing.

Days after her chest compressions revived the man on the flight to Phoenix, Honan said: “I just did what I had to do. Anybody else would have done it if they had been able.”

Her father, though, thinks Honan doesn’t give herself enough credit.

“She doesn’t think a thing about going right in and helping when someone is in trouble,” McGuffey said. “If anything ever happens to me, I hope she’s there.”

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

Child Advocacy Center kicks off Over the Edge fundraising

The Barren River Area Child Advocacy Center held a kickoff news conference Tuesday for its Over the Edge rappelling fundraiser, which is held in the fall each year.

In the news conference at Stadium Park Plaza in downtown Bowling Green, the center said it is once again aiming for the event to take fundraising to “new heights.”

The center raised $92,000 during last year’s event.

For the fourth straight year, those who participate in Over the Edge will raise at least $1,000 to then rappel five stories off the top of Stadium Park Plaza.

Set for Sept. 10-11, the goal for this year’s event is to raise at least $100,000.

BRACAC Executive Director Jennifer Bryant said the need for the center is as important as ever. The center saw a 92% increase in forensic interviewing for abused children over the past year, she said.

“We know that folks like to travel in the summer and go on vacation, so we are asking people to start fundraising now and to use this time to raise money,” Bryant said. “Each year we are seeing increases in the number of children we serve. This money is very important to help us provide those additional forensic interviews.”

Anyone can sign up at give.classy.org/OTE21. All proceeds from the event will support the center’s services.

Bryant said volunteers who organize teams of people who work to each raise $1,000 have been the most helpful in the past.

“People have signed up to ‘toss’ their boss or their pastor,” Bryant said. “But we are just asking folks to take this step and be brave like these kids who have stepped forward to receive our help.”

Top fundraisers from last year’s event were recognized at the news conference.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kori Bumgarner and officials from The Medical Center at Bowling Green also spoke during the gathering and offered their support.

The BRACAC serves a 10-county region with forensic interviews, medical exams and trauma-informed mental health therapy services. The center serves more than 800 children each year and is funded through private donations, state and federal grants and foundation grants.

All of the center’s services are offered free of charge to the public.

– Follow reporter John Reecer on Twitter @JReecerBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.