The man who reported a mountain lion missing from a Richland Avenue business on Sunday has been arrested.
Billy J. Lunsford, of North Augusta, was detained at about 7:30 p.m. Monday and was charged with one count of providing false information to a public safety officer.
Lunsford called police at about 1 a.m. Sunday to report that someone forced entry through the metal side of the Aquarium Pet Store on Richland Avenue and stole his pet mountain lion, according to previous reports. Police originally reported that the animal was wearing a dog harness and had been declawed.
Lunsford told officers the mountain lion was last seen at about 7 p.m. Saturday and was “left to wander around the back room of the building,” according to an incident report.
He also said the intruder likely entered the store by prying open a piece of the metal wall on the side of the building and pulled the mountain lion through a 6-inch space between pieces of wood.
Officers saw that at least 15 screws had been removed from a piece of metal; however, they were unable to locate any of the screws, the report stated. A piece of PVC pipe was reportedly used to pry the metal sheet back, exposing the inside of the building.
Aiken Public Safety had enlisted the help of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources in setting traps and determining the appropriate procedure to capture the animal, according to Lt. Jake Mahoney.
Late Sunday, the department sent out another email stating that the report of a missing mountain lion was false. Police said the story was not true, and that there was never a mountain lion inside the business.
Mahoney said Lunsford’s affiliation with the business has not been determined.
“He is not the owner, but he is affiliated with the business,” he said.
When approached by a reporter on Monday, a woman who works in the store declined to comment beyond saying: “There’s been a misunderstanding. There has never been an exotic, wild cat here.”
The employee asked not to be identified.
There was also a gas leak reported at the Richland Avenue store on Sunday. SCE&G personnel responded, located the leak, cut off the gas and cleared the scene.
Mahoney said investigators haven’t determined if there’s a correlation between the two calls.
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.