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WESTERLY — A homeless man was charged with breaking and entering last week after the owner of an unoccupied house on Post Road received an unusually high electric bill. The police said that the man, Jan Holt, 35, had been staying there for more than a month and had used an electric stove as a heater.

At the request of a real estate agent and the owner, Westerly officer checked the site, in a cottage-style development, and found Holt inside. He was arraigned the next day, Feb. 7, in Fourth Division District Court. He did not enter a plea and was released on a promise to appear in court.

"This is one of the unfortunate examples of what can happen when a home is unoccupied, even for a short time. When the temperatures are cold, owners need to be vigilant and do occasional checks to make sure nothing is out of sorts," said Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey.

A representative of Princess Pines Estates Inc., which owns the property, had called the police on Feb. 6 to report suspicious activity. The representative told police that the home had been vacant for several months and that in early February, the electric bill was quite high. Officers found a second-floor back door unlocked, entered the home, and found Holt inside, standing near a machete that had been left on a table.

Police secured the machete and handcuffed Holt as a precaution, Lacey said. According to a police report, Holt was cooperative with officers and told them he had been at the home since around Christmas.

Lacey said that Holt initially entered through a 9-inch space under the garage door. The machete was intended for self-defense, Lacey said, and Holt did not reach for it when officers entered the structure.

Police and fire officials warned against using a cooking appliance to stay warm, because it's a safety hazard. "Given the circumstances, there could have been a fire or injury. It could have been much worse," Lacey said.

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