Local homeowners catch alleged mail thief

Local homeowners catch alleged mail thief

YAKIMA, Wash. - Police say they arrested a Yakima woman for allegedly stealing people's mail right from their mailbox.

Local homeowner Michael Padilla said he put his electric bill in his mailbox like he does every month and he put up the red flag to let his mail carrier know there was something inside.

However, his mailman wasn't the only one alerted, he said the red flag tipped off a mail thief and she stole his bill right out of his mailbox.

"Obviously they know there's mail going out when your red flag is up, but on the contrary I red flagged her," said Padilla.

He said he happened to be driving by his home on South 16th Avenue when he saw 41-year-old Heather Vanmeter looking through his mailbox. Padilla said he stopped to confront her and she told him she worked for the post office.

"Right there I knew something was up so I said 'I think you better hang out right here, I'm calling 911,'" he said.

He said Vanmeter started walking away but police arrived within minutes and found her at the corner convenience store.

Padilla said he got his $140 check back.

His wife Kathy Padilla said this is just the latest crime in their neighborhood and things have been getting worse the past few months.

"You shouldn't be afraid in your own yard, it's your property," she said. "You should feel safe."

She said they never had their mail taken before but don't want to take another chance because next time her husband might not be there to catch the thief.

"If they are going to walk the neighborhood and look for flags up on mailboxes, I think we're going to just take our mail to the post office, which was suggested by the police officer," she said.

Police say Vanmeter has a history of fraud and multiple thefts and is being charged with mail theft this time.

According to police reports, Vanmeter told police that she saw the red flag on the mailbox and stopped, thinking no one was home.

A Yakima County Superior Court judge released Vanmeter Monday afternoon without bail, and her arraignment is scheduled for next week.

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