A homeless man accused of breaking into a house was the subject of an intense manhunt last Thursday night. East Hampton Village police, aided by police dogs and their handlers from Riverhead and a Suffolk police search helicopter, captured the man after two hours when he stumbled out of the woods right in front of a squad car in which a witness was said to be riding.
In East Hampton Town Justice Court the next morning, James B. Sbardella, 33, who according to police stole one bottle of Polish vodka, pleaded not guilty to a charge of burglary, a felony, as well as attempted grand larceny, a misdemeanor, and marijuana possession, a violation. Bail was set at $10,000.
Mr. Sbardella, originally from Florida, could not post bail. He has been held in the county jail in Riverside.
“I was walking all day and just needed some time to rest,” he told village detectives after his arrest. He went onto the back porch of a house on Talmage Lane, according to his statement. “I took my shoes off . . . I was drunk. I looked around and saw the vodka bottle.” It was inside the house, beyond a sliding glass door. “I broke the glass and went inside. I took the vodka and walked to the train tracks.”
The bottle of Sobieski vodka would retail for between $11.99 and $15.99, depending on the size.
Mr. Sbardella’s day began last Thursday pretty much the way all his recent days have begun, according to his statement. After being told by a landscaping company that morning that there was no work available, he said, “I said to myself . . . I might as well get drunk.”
He went to Waldbaum’s, bought a 12-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and walked to Town Pond, where, he told police, he drank the beer and fed the swans a loaf of bread.
The manhunt last Thursday night began after the owner of a 2012 Chevrolet pickup truck, Thomas Piacentine, discovered Mr. Sbardella rummaging through his unlocked truck, parked in front of his house on Buell Lane Extension. Mr. Piacentine began pummeling the man, at the same time calling to his wife to call 911.
“He was begging me to let him go,” Mr. Piacentine told police. “I did let him up once I heard the police coming. I told him not to run away. The next thing I know, there was a helicopter and police dogs looking for this guy.”
Mr. Sbardella, in his statement to detectives, admitted having been to Buell Lane Extension before. He had found an unlocked car at the same house there, he said, with the keys inside, and had driven it away. It was later recovered nearby.
Chief Gerald Larsen of the village police said Monday that the suspect had been living recently near the train tracks in the village. “Sad story,” the chief said.
Mr. Sbardella is due back in court today. If the Suffolk County district attorney’s office has not sought an indictment, he will be released without bail, but with a future date in court. There is a warrant out for him in Florida, apparently involving trespassing on private property, but extradition on that charge is considered unlikely.