Ten minutes to midnight on Tuesday, Jeremy J. Van Ert stepped into a walk-in beer cooler at a Kwik Trip convenience store in Marshfield, Wis.
When the doors locked behind him at midnight, he decided that rather than shout for help, he would just camp out, police say.
Marshfield Police Chief Rick Gramza said that his department has dealt with people who intentionally hide and get locked inside places with the purpose of committing a crime but that this case was particularly unique.
“We never had somebody accidentally locked in a place and not make any attempt to be rescued or get out because they’re satisfied with the circumstances,” he said.
“He just decided to run it out for the night. It had everything that he needed.”
Six hours, one 18-ounce Icehouse beer and three cans of Four Loko later, Van Ert was spotted by a Kwik Trip customer who told an employee that a man was trapped inside.
When the doors unlocked shortly before 6 a.m., Van Ert, 38, “made a beeline from the beer cooler to the door without any attempt to pay for what he had consumed or broken,” Gramza said. Overnight, Van Ert had knocked over and broken three 30-packs of Busch beer, police records show.
A Kwik Trip corporate spokesman declined to comment on the case, citing a police investigation. It was unclear whether there were signs near the cooler that warned of the doors locking at midnight, or whether there were cameras inside the cooler that could have been used to spot Van Ert sooner. The cooler was reported to have temperatures around 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
An employee who answered the phone at the Marshfield Kwik Trip, which operates 24 hours a day, referred questions to the corporate management. No attorneys were listed in police records, and Van Ert could not be reached for comment.
The walk-in cooler had glass doors that Van Ert could have knocked on to get an employee’s attention, police records show. Yet Van Ert “offered no explanation” for why he didn’t knock for help.
When police found Van Ert, he acknowledged being locked inside the cooler and that he “decided to stay and drink,” according to police records.
On Wednesday, Van Ert was cited for retail theft, which Gramza said was punishable by a roughly $170 fine plus restitution for the business.
Yet at the time of the incident, Van Ert was also on probation for previous criminal charges, including two counts of arson. Gramza said that because Van Ert got drunk and committed theft while on probation, he was transported to the Wood County Jail, where he remained, pending release from his probation officer.
“Off retail theft alone we probably wouldn’t have taken him to jail,” Gramza said. “He has certain guidelines he has to adhere to. The probation officer has the ability to lock him up.”
As news of the incident spread beyond Marshfield, some took to Twitter to offer some justification for Van Ert staying put.
“A @KwikTrip beer cave is one of the few places on earth I’d be alright with being locked inside,” quipped one user.
“I mean . . . we all would have done the same,” admitted another.