Deputies tie 4 suspects to a string of Beaufort-area burglaries

Burnette, Chad
Burnette, Chad

Authorities say four burglary suspects arrested last week while trying to rob a Cat Island restaurant also are involved in a rash of recent Beaufort-area burglaries.

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office and the Beaufort and Port Royal police departments have charged James Ralph Elam, 19, Jose Benjamin Ruelas, 18, and Chad Dennis Burnette, 29, with six counts each of second-degree burglary, one count of grand larceny, one count of attempted burglary and one count of safecracking, according to the county's jail log.

Cole James Jackson, 16, also was charged with four counts of second-degree burglary, one count of safecracking, one count of attempted burglary and one count of grand larceny.

All four men are being held at the Beaufort County Detention Center.

The charges stem from break-ins at the Lady's Island Country Club on July 8 and July 13, the Sanctuary Golf Club on Cat Island on July 9, the Jersey Mike's restaurant on Robert Smalls Parkway in Beaufort on July 1, and the Back Porch Grill in Port Royal, according to authorities. The date of the Back Porch Grill break-in was not available Tuesday.

Authorities say the men were attempting to burglarize the Cat Island Cafe at Sanctuary Golf Club for the second time last week when a Beaufort County sheriff's deputy patrolling the area foiled their plans.

The deputy reported seeing several broken windows at the business, and as he searched the building, the suspects ran from inside the restaurant, according to authorities. The Sheriff's Office searched nearly eight hours for the suspects before capturing Elam, Ruelas and Burnette. Jackson was arrested later that day, according to court records.

Burnette, who has been arrested more than 20 times since 2002, appears to have been the ring leader, Sheriff P.J. Tanner said.

Burnette "was what you would consider a career criminal, and he was training" Ruelas, Elam and Jackson, Tanner said. "None of these guys had jobs, and they'd break into these places and steal money and booze."

Burnette also was charged with failure to register as a sex offender for missing his biannual check-in after a 1996 conviction for indecent exposure, according to the jail log.

The suspects face up to 15 years in prison for each burglary charge and up to 30 years for safecracking if convicted.