May 24, 2023

Alleged VSU bulldozer thief has history of dropped charges

CHESTERFIELD – The man accused of stealing a bulldozer and wreaking havoc on the Virginia State University campus has a history of issues with the university, but until now, none of them have resulted in a conviction.

Online records from the Chesterfield General District Court show that of 30 charges Devin J. Thorne has been arrested for since 2021, more than 20 of them involve dealings with the Ettrick school. Twelve of them, all misdemeanors, went to court but were not prosecuted.

Thorne was arrested in the early morning hours of May 27 after state police reportedly caught him driving a stolen bulldozer previously used to trash a VSU Police vehicle, and damage property at and around the VSU Multi-Purpose Center. He also is accused of doing damage with the bulldozer at Ettrick Elementary School and a church across Chesterfield Avenue from the VSU campus.

A consortium of Virginia State Police and local officers from Colonial Heights and Chesterfield County stopped the suspect as he was driving the equipment on Boisseau Street.

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Six of the 12 unprosecuted charges against Thorne were for trespassing, with the earliest dating to Nov. 18, 2021. One of them was for making a false alarm to authorities, one was for ID theft. The other four were failure to show up for court.

Each of those cases has a "nolle prosequi" status on them. Nolle prosequi is Latin for "to be unwilling to prosecute." There are several reasons for the nolle prosequi such as insufficient evidence to get a conviction or lack of witness participation.

In Thorne's situation, the charges were dropped because of his reported mental incompetence to stand trial. Thorne, now 27, is homeless, although in earlier arrest records, he was listed as living in Petersburg.

The Chesterfield commonwealth's attorney's office declined to comment on those cases and the current charges he now faces.

During the early morning hours of May 27, authorities believe Thorne took a bulldozer from an on-campus construction site and drove in the direction of the VSU Multi-Purpose Center, a sports and entertainment area between Second and Third streets on the northwest corner of the VSU campus. He allegedly crashed the dozer into an unoccupied VSU Police vehicle parked at the MPC, then backed up and ran into the building.

After hitting the building, the dozer then struck some signs and light poles, and knocked down some trees. It then crossed over Chesterfield Avenue, the village's main thoroughfare where the elementary school and church are located, and did some damage to those properties.

Police say Thorne then reportedly drove the bulldozer back onto the VSU campus and repeatedly struck the police vehicle it previously hit before flipping it over. VSU said the vehicle was demolished.

Authorities eventually stopped him as he drove onto Boisseau Street which connects the campus with Chesterfield Avenue.

Thorne has been charged with three counts of intended destruction of property valued at more than $1,000 and three counts of trespassing; and one count each of grand larceny, reckless driving and endangerment, eluding police, being an accessory to damaging school or church property, tampering with firefighting equipment, driving without a license, and obstruction and resistance. The destruction, larceny and eluding police all are felonies.

He was arraigned Tuesday in Chesterfield General District Court and is expected back in court July 14.

It has not been made public how Thorne was able to get access to the bulldozer or get the motor started. Bulldozers traditionally have ignitions that require keys.

Several email messages left with VSU this week requesting information about access and who owns the equipment that was used have not been returned.

Four days before the bulldozer incident, Thorne was again charged with trespassing on VSU, damaging property valued at less than $1,000 and setting off a false alarm. He will appear in court on those charges July 19.

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Bill Atkinson (he/him/his) is an award-winning journalist who covers breaking news, government and politics. Reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @BAtkinson_PI.

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