Rest area sign

The urine appeared the night after Christmas, and it covered the women’s restroom at the westbound rest area on Interstate 80 near York.

On the walls. In the sinks. Soaking all of the toilet paper rolls.

It happened again the next night, and the next.

“Someone was coming into the rest area’s women’s restrooms and had peed on multiple items,” a York County Sheriff’s lieutenant wrote in his investigative report.

“It got so bad they decided to close down the westbound rest area while an attendant was not there.”

The lieutenant had been summoned Jan. 24 to the York office of the state Department of Transportation, where he met with the manager and the contractor hired to maintain the rest areas near York.

They described the damage. And they told him closing a rest area on one of the nation’s busiest highways from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. — the 14 hours an attendant wasn’t on duty — hadn’t worked.

Because there was another rest area across the highway and down the road.

“Once they closed that facility the subject moved to the eastbound rest area and continued to do the same thing.”

The urine dirtied that women’s restroom again and again, about 10 times in a month. The Department of Transportation finally installed a hidden camera at the entrance of the eastbound rest area. And it worked.

On Jan. 19, the camera caught a male wearing a hat, hood and a headlamp entering the women’s room at 10:46 p.m. He didn’t leave the building until after 11:30.

The next night, the camera caught the male returning a little after 6 p.m., this time with a woman. They were inside for more than an hour.

York County isn’t that big, and on Jan. 25, a deputy watched the video and thought he recognized the man, a 37-year-old from Benedict.

That same night, the women’s restroom — including 14 rolls of toilet paper — was soaked again. The lieutenant watched the latest video. He saw another York County officer, a sheriff’s sergeant, spend a couple of minutes checking the rest area at about 10:30 p.m. Then, just a few minutes later, he saw the male come in and spend nearly an hour inside.

But here’s what the camera didn’t catch: The sergeant had also checked the plates of the cars in the rest area parking lot.

One was registered to a 29-year-old woman investigators believe had been caught on video Jan. 20. The same car had been driven by the 37-year-old Benedict man when he was stopped for driving under suspension in December.

Now it was starting to make sense to investigators, the lieutenant wrote. They believed the woman would wait in the parking lot to watch for cars.

“This would give the male subject ample warning to hide himself in the case of a female entering the bathroom,” he wrote. “This would also explain how the subjects went undetected with multiple people coming in and out of the restroom in the video.”

The sheriff’s department asked the contractor to do some math. The cost of more than 70 rolls of toilet paper. The cost of the time spent cleaning. And they considered the cost to motorists, who rely on rest areas for relief.

“These are designed for the public to obtain water from a water fountain, use restroom facilities, walk animals, and to rest when tired,” the lieutenant wrote. “Rest areas are a service that is provided to the public.”

They estimated the damage at $2,500.

On Feb. 5, York County officers searched the couple’s home in Benedict and found clothing that matched what the suspects wore on the videos, according to court documents. They arrested Timothy J. Welch and Victoria M. Gilbert, who were both charged with criminal mischief, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Gilbert pleaded no contest and is awaiting sentencing; Welch is scheduled to enter a plea Feb. 27.

Gilbert couldn’t be reached for comment, and Welch’s court-appointed attorney hadn’t yet met with his client Thursday.

The damage ended with the arrests, Investigator C. Alex Hildebrand said Thursday. But he’s not sure why it started.

“There was not any one good reason as to why they were doing it,” he said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.


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