Richards sought in death, robbery

PARKERSBURG – Police are searching for the man believed to have killed a one-year-old girl in his care on Tuesday in Parkersburg and then allegedly robbed Five Guys in Vienna on Wednesday morning.

Curtis Dean Richards, Jr., 30, of 906 Fourth St., St. Marys, is wanted for killing one-year-old Ariella Noel Merinar, said Parkersburg Police Chief Joe Martin. A warrant for murder has been issued for Richards, Martin said Thursday.

Richards is also wanted on a warrant for grand larceny in Vienna, after allegedly robbing the Five Guys restaurant at 702 Grand Central Ave. early Wednesday morning, said Sgt. K. Parrish with the Vienna Police Department.

Richards is believed to have fled the area, officials said. The Wood County Sheriff’s Office, Parkersburg Police Department and Vienna Police Department are working in conjunction with other local law enforcement to search for Richards, officials said.

Investigators are asking anyone who knows the whereabouts of Richards to call the Parkersburg Police Department at 304-424-8444 or any local law enforcement agency so that he can be arrested, Martin said. Anonymous tips can be reported at www.parkersburgpolice.com

Richards is known to drive a black Toyota truck with West Virginia license plate 4XA 886, Martin said.

The infant Merinar was left in Richards’ care when her mother, whose name was not released, went to work early on Tuesday, said Martin.

Investigators attended the autopsy of Merinar at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Charleston Thursday morning, Martin said. The autopsy revealed Merinar suffered severe head injuries and injuries to her neck, Martin said.

The autopsy and the investigation determined that Merinar’s death was a homicide, not an accident, Martin said. The investigation led police to obtain a warrant for Richards’ arrest, Martin said.

On Tuesday, officers responded to an apartment at 3850 Central Ave. after Richards called to report that Merinar was unresponsive, Martin said.

Richards initially claimed he had found Merinar’s 2-year, 11-month-old sibling choking the baby until she had stopped breathing, Martin said.

EMS, fire and emergency room physicians attempted to resuscitate Merinar, but were unsuccessful, Martin said.

Detectives interviewed both the 2-year, 11-month-old sibling, with her mother present, and then Richards, Martin said on Tuesday. Richards requested an attorney during the questioning, and his questioning ended at that time, Martin said Tuesday.

There was not enough evidence to arrest Richards on Tuesday, Martin said.

Investigators obtained a search warrant for the home and evidence was obtained, Martin said Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Richards went to Five Guys in Vienna, where he was previously a manager, and stole more than $1,000, Parrish said. The exact amount stolen was not released on Thursday to maintain the integrity of the investigation, Parrish said.

Richards allegedly stopped going to work two weeks ago and failed to turn in his keys, Parrish said.

At 6:15 a.m. Wednesday, Richards used his keys to enter Five Guys, Parrish said. Video shows Richards entering the manager’s office in the kitchen and keying in the combination to the store safe, Parrish said.

Richards took a purse which a customer had accidentally left in the store the day before from the office and filled it with the money from the safe, Parrish said.

The purse belonged to a woman who had recently been married, Parrish said. All of the gift certificates and cash gifts from the wedding were still in the purse, he said. The value of the wedding gifts was unknown on Thursday, Parrish said.

Richards exited the store and locked the door behind him, Parrish said.

The robbery was not discovered until management opened the building on Wednesday, and discovered the purse was missing when the purse owner’s husband called to arrange to pick it up, Parrish said. The discovery of the missing purse led to a review of the store’s surveillance video, Parrish said.

Richards is a repeat offender in West Virginia, Martin said.

According to the West Virginia Department of Corrections website, Richards was on parole at the time of Merinar’s death and was expected to be on parole until at least 2018. Richards was sentenced for one count of forgery or uttering in Wood County in 2006, for two counts of forgery or uttering in Kanawha County in 2009, for one count of forgery or uttering in Raleigh County in 2010, and for one charge of daytime burglary without breaking in Wood County without a given date, the website said.