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A cherished classic Ford Thunderbird that was once in pristine condition is now totaled after a man allegedly stole it from a central Minnesota storage shed.

Joseph A. Pawlowski, 38, of Kerkhoven, Minn., was charged in Kandiyohi District Court with felony burglary and theft and related counts in connection with the break-in near New London that yielded him the 1956 T-Bird, a pearly white two-seater with peppermint interior.

“It’s in pretty tough shape,” said Mark Wedel of Willmar, who’s been looking after the gem for his widowed father, who has dementia and lives in a nursing home.

The doors won’t close, the frame is damaged, the radiator was left bone dry and the convertible hardtop shell won’t snap back in place, he said.

“He did a number on it,” said Wedel, who has the car stored in Willmar. “It had dirt and grass everywhere on it. I don’t know if he drove it in the ditch.”

Wedel said he’s sure the insurance company will total the car, which he estimates was worth $45,000 to $55,000 before it was taken for a ride.

But even if insurance comes through, he said that won’t cover his father’s emotional attachment to the car, with its shimmering chrome and a stylish spare tire adorning the trunk.

Wedel’s 83-year-old father, Roland, bought the T-Bird about eight years ago at a classic car show at the State Fairgrounds.

“It has a lot of sentimental value to my dad,” Mark Wedel said. “It was like the one his family had when he was a kid [growing up in southern Minnesota]. When my mom passed, he wanted to buy one.”

According to the charges:

Late on March 18, the Sheriff’s Office was alerted to a suspicious person near a large shed in the New London area.

Deputies met up with a man at the shed who said the Thunderbird was stolen. The deputies saw the broken door where the burglar got in and fresh footprints on the ground.

Police in nearby Belgrade alerted the Sheriff’s Office that they pulled over Pawlowski in a Thunderbird. An officer took a photo of the sole of one of his shoes, and that image was an alleged match to the footprints seen outside the shed.

Along with the stolen T-Bird, Pawlowski also had with him a “substantial amount of property” from the shed belonging to two other people.

Pawlowski was booked into jail Saturday and remains held in lieu of $25,000 bail. Court records do not list an attorney for him. He’s due back in court on April 1.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482