Crime & Courts

Restaurant workers assumed a man already inside was a new employee. They were wrong.

Employees reporting to work at a Lincoln County restaurant early Tuesday thought a man inside was a new employee.

The man hung around with them for a half-hour at Home Place Restaurant on N.C. 27 West. Then he took a key to the restaurant’s van and drove off with a backpack full of stolen food, sheriff’s investigators said.

Within hours, however, the restaurant’s owner spotted the van on his way to a planned fishing trip in Burke County. Owner Clay Heafner called 911 and followed the van until a Morganton Public Safety officer stopped the van and detained the driver.

Matthew Tyler Straughan, 28, of Lincolnton, was charged with felony breaking and entering a building, larceny after breaking and entering, and larceny of a motor vehicle in Lincoln County. He was charged in Burke County with felony possession of a stolen motor vehicle and is being held in the Burke County Jail.

Surveillance video showed a man broke into the restaurant in the 1700 block of N.C. 27 West at about 3:30 a.m. – two hours before the restaurant’s workers arrived. The employees entered through a back door and didn’t see the broken front door.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak