Methuen burglary suspect arrested after allegedly being caught in the act

A suspect in a string of burglaries in Methuen is in custody after a man caught him in the act and, with the help of a friend, pinned him to the ground until police arrived, Methuen police said.

Wilfredo Rivera, 45, was arraigned in Lawrence District Court Monday, according to police Lieutenant Michael Pappalardo.

The incident occurred when Jason Thomas stopped at his father-in-law’s house to drop something off Friday night and noticed the side door to the garage open, he said in an interview. He then went into the home and saw a man entering the kitchen.

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Thomas said he asked the man what he was doing in the house, and the suspect responded that he was looking for his lawyer.

When Thomas, 50, of Windham, N.H., attempted to call 911 using his cellphone, the man attacked him, he said.

“Once he came at me, it was do or die,” Thomas said. “At first, I didn’t know if there was a weapon or if there was anyone else in the house.”

His wife and another couple were waiting in the car, Thomas said, but they did not hear any of the fighting.

“He was very strong,’’ Thomas said. “We went at it for a while. I figured the only way it would end was if I could get to a phone or get outside.”

When he had the chance, Thomas dragged the man out into the garage.

His friend, who was waiting in the car, jumped into the brawl, called 911, and helped Thomas hold the intruder down until police arrived, Thomas said.

Other than a black eye, Thomas said he is doing all right.

He said he has never had to confront a burglar before and is uncertain how he would handle a similar situation again.

“I’m sure it would all depend on the situation at hand,” Thomas said. “At the point you really don’t have time to think. When he got aggressive, the situation had to be handled. Fortunately, it worked out.”

Rivera had been staying in a basement apartment in Methuen, and is a suspect in a string of burglaries in the neighborhood, Pappalardo said.

The burglaries have occurred for about a week across the neighborhood and the suspect had been observed by a homeowner at least once, Pappalardo said.

Martin Michaud, 77, the owner of the Methuen house, was not home when the incident happened Friday night.

“It was an awful, awful situation,” said Michaud, Thomas’s father-in-law. “I’ve been here 55 years and never seen nothing like this.”

He said a thief had broken into his house when no one was home two weeks prior to Friday’s incident and stole a laptop.

Rivera is charged with breaking and entering in the nighttime with intent to commit a felony, intimidation of a witness, assault and battery, willful and malicious damage to personal property, attempt to commit a crime, unarmed burglary, and assault on an occupant, Pappalardo said.

An employee at the Lawrence District Court county clerk’s office said Rivera is being held on $50,000 bond or $5,000 cash bail for one charge of breaking and entering and $100,000 bond or $10,000 cash bail for another charge of breaking and entering. The clerk’s office did not know how Rivera pleaded to the charges.

Rivera is scheduled for another hearing Wednesday, the clerk’s office employee said.

Methuen police are still investigating Rivera’s possible role in a number of other area burglaries.