BY ART BUKOWSKI
TRAVERSE CITY — City police arrested a man who barged into a Traverse City home in the middle of the night, the latest in a pattern of incidents that officials worry could one day lead to tragedy.
Gustavo Jose Benitez, Jr., said he made a “huge mistake” when he broke into a home along 12th Street on Saturday at about 2:45 a.m., police said. He now faces a felony charge of third-degree home invasion and a misdemeanor count of malicious destruction of a building.
Benitez, 56, hasn’t been arraigned. He was released on bond and could not be reached for comment.
A man and his wife were asleep in their home along West 12th Street when they awoke to a loud pounding on the door, city police Capt. Steve Morgan said. The man went to investigate.
“A loud banging woke him up, and then he heard glass breaking,” Morgan said. “He stepped out of his bedroom and looks down toward his front door, and there’s a guy standing there inside his home.”
The homeowner immediately returned to his room and called police, Morgan said. The home’s door was locked, and the sound of glass shattering happened when the suspect broke a window in the door so he could unlock it.
Officers found Benitez a short distance from the home. He was drunk and said he was confused when he broke into the home. His choice to force entry was puzzling, Morgan said, no matter whose house he thought it was.
“I really don’t know why he’d be breaking into anybody’s home,” Morgan said.
City police deal with similar incidents several times each year. Someone gets drunk and either walks into an unlocked home or breaks into one. They usually don’t have violent intentions, but that doesn’t matter, from a law enforcement perspective.
A startled homeowner with a weapon could decide to shoot first and ask questions later, police said.
“To me, it’s only a matter of time before somebody gets seriously hurt, whether it’s the suspect or the homeowner,” Morgan said. “You can imagine the fear in someone when you’re woken up in the middle of the night, you hear banging, you hear glass breaking. You don’t know what that person’s intent is. It’s just a bad situation.”