BARTOW – Maybe it was simply the kind of news story that touches a cord with people during the holiday season, but when the Polk County Sheriff’s Office asked the public for helping in finding a real life Grinch who stole toys intended for needy children, the calls flowed into their office.
And now, the woman charged with the theft of a Toys for Tots donation box at a Polk City restaurant is indeed in the Polk County Jail.
In fact, she was in jail on a separate theft charge. On Thursday, 27-year-old Amanda Akins of 506 Avenue G SE in Winter Haven was arrested by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office on a Hillsborough County warrant for petit theft. On Friday, detectives said, she confessed to the Polk City robbery as well, and was charged with grand theft.
“We are so grateful to the community for helping us identify this ‘Grinch’ responsible for stealing children’s toys — and just in time for Christmas,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. “And we here at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office also got our Christmas wish — that the suspect responsible for doing this will be eating processed turkey on Christmas day, in the Polk County Jail.”
Detectives from the sheriff’s office’s Northwest General Crimes Unit have been working around the clock following up on leads from the public about the so-called “Grinch” who stole a Toys for Tots box full of toys from a restaurant in Polk City.
The theft happened around 9:50 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 17 at the Hungry Howie’s Pizza at 221 Commonwealth Ave. in Polk City, which was conducting a Toys for Tots drive and had a donation box inside the restaurant, which was closed at the time.
A video surveillance camera captured images of a woman entering the restaurant, and then removing the large cardboard donation box filled with toys for needy children. The video captured an image of a white woman in her 20s with long straight brown hair, wearing a green t-shirt with “Florida” written on it.
On Friday, Northwest GCU detectives got a tip from a Polk City resident, who told them the woman in the well-publicized video released by the sheriff’s office to the media may be Akins. As it turned out, she was already in the jail on the warrant from Hillsborough County.
“Detectives responded to the Polk County Jail to interview Akins, and she confessed to taking the box of toys,” Carrie Eleazer, public information officer for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, noted in her release on the case. “She told detectives she left the toys with a friend. Detectives responded to the friend’s home and recovered some, but not all, of the toys. Their investigation is ongoing in reference to locating the rest of the toys.”
Akins made her first appearance before a Polk County judge today, and a bond was set in the amount of $5,000. Akins is still in the Polk County Jail.
In the meantime, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office is still looking for another real-life Grinch.
On Wednesday, Dec. 21, while the woman was away from her home in Frostproof dealing with a death in the family, her house got burglarized.
Someone got into the home through a window, and stole two televisions, jewelry, and all of the presents under the Christmas tree. Those gifts were intended for two children — one boy who is just a year old, and a teenage girl. The presents included baby toys, an iPad, a laptop, and a Nintendo DS.
Anyone with information about the Frostproof theft can call Detective Matthew Radabaugh at 863-412-2212.
In response to that burglary, Polk County Sheriff’s deputies and detectives assigned to the Southeast District pooled their money together to help provide some Christmas cheer to the Frostproof woman and her two children.
Radabaugh, Sergeant Shawn Stephenson, and his daughter Toni Rae went to Karnella Johnson’s home this morning to present her with more than $200 in cash, another $200 in store gift cards, and more than $250 worth of food — including a Christmas ham — and some wrapped presents donated by East and West Community Oriented Police deputies.
“The Southeast District’s goal was to help Ms. Johnson do some last-minute shopping in attempt to replace some of what was stolen, and to hopefully put smiles on her and her children’s faces this holiday season,” Eleazor noted. “Ms. Johnson burst into tears at the generosity.”
To learn where to donate toys to the Marines Toys for Tots Foundation in the Greater Orlando area, call 407-240-5939, Ext. 1707, and ask for the coordinator, Master Sergeant Aaron VanNostrand, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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