Police arrest woman accused of stealing from donation box for Westerville officers

Donna Ater was arrested and charged with theft. (Columbus Division of Police)

Columbus police said a woman's in custody after being accused of stealing hundreds of dollars from a donation jar from the Average Joe's Pub and Grill on Henderson Road.

Managers said the donations were intended for the families of fallen Westerville police officers Anthony Morelli and Eric Joering.

Police said 62-year old Donna Lee Ater was charged with theft in the case and is being held at the Franklin County Jail.

Investigators said Ater was identified through a picture identification process.

They believe Ater learned she'd been the one selected from the photos, then decided to turn herself in to authorities

Briana Braver, a Westerville native, and manager at the restaurant said the crime was captured late Saturday night on surveillance video.

"She looked at the box like she was reading it, and put money in it, then flipped it over to see if she could get inside the box and couldn't, she goes away, then comes back with something to pull the money out, probably tweezers," Braver said.

Braver thinks Ater used most of the cash to play in Kenoe Lottery machines located next to the donation box display.

"There was a lot of money in our Kenoe machine at the end of the night, more than normal, so she played all of it."

Braver added after playing the machines, Ater returned to the bar, ordered another drink which she paid for in cash, then left.

Staff at Average Joe's said Ater wasn't a regular customer at Average Joe's but said she'd been in earlier in the day.

"She was in earlier in the day, had a couple of beers, and then came back, so I think earlier in the day, she saw it, so maybe she thought about it."

Braver said the theft of the donation jar hit her personally.

She'd met officer Morelli years ago when he served as her DARE officer.

"I remember him as being a really great human being, he was always so sweet" she added.

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