Archive for Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Police stop robbery at tractor dealership

Theft suspects caught

January 14, 2004

Two observant citizens helped keep thousands of dollars in farm equipment from being stolen from a Baldwin business over the weekend.

A phone call made by a husband and wife to police dispatch about suspicious activity led police to Heritage Tractor, 915 Industrial Park Road, late Friday night where officers interrupted thieves after they loaded two lawn tractors onto a rental truck, Police Chief Mike McKenna said.

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"It was a result of excellent citizen cooperation and involvement," McKenna said.

Though he declined to say who the couple was that notified police, McKenna said it was their awareness and actions that led to the arrest of five men.

The series of events began about 11 p.m. Friday, he said, when the husband and wife were on their way home and drove past the John Deere dealership east of Baldwin on U.S. Highway 56. The couple noticed a rental truck and a man in a pickup parked at the dealership.

"They felt something just didn't look right," McKenna said.

The couple returned to Heritage Tractor and, upon seeing that a van had driven up along side the pickup, called Baldwin police.

When an officer arrived at Heritage Tractor, the man in the pickup, who was the only one there at the time, told the officer he was lost.

McKenna said once the officer left, the couple returned to Heritage Tractor and observed the van return, where upon they called police a second time.

The officer returned and discovered the rental truck, which police later determined was stolen from Independence, Mo., while a second officer saw the van leaving the area and stopped it on U.S. Highway 56 east of Baldwin.

McKenna said when the van pulled over, the side door opened and three of the five men in it ran into the field. Two of the men were held at the van until other officers arrived.

Officers from the Douglas County Sheriff's and Lawrence Police departments assisted in the manhunt. Canine units from the Sheriff's Department and the Lenexa Police Department were brought in, and the Kansas Highway Patrol sent a helicopter to help with the search.

Two of the men were eventually captured in the Black Jack Battlefield area east of Baldwin. The fifth man was arrested Monday after showing up at the Baldwin City Police Department to get his truck, which had been impounded after it had been found over the weekend abandoned in Wellsville.

Daniel W. Crowder, 58, Smithton, Mo., and John H. Stone, 33, Kansas City, Mo., were each charged Monday in Douglas County District Court with one count of attempted theft and one count of misdemeanor criminal damage to property.

Missouri authorities also want to extradite Stone on a warrant for a state parole violation.

Crowder's bond was set at $3,000 and he was ordered to appear Tuesday for scheduling of a preliminary hearing.

Stone's bond was set at $10,000 for the Douglas County charges and another $10,000 for the Missouri warrant. He was also ordered to appear Tuesday to schedule a preliminary hearing.

Charges are pending against two other suspects, a 52-year-old Independence, Mo., man and a 30-year-old Kansas City, Mo., man. They were released Monday from the Douglas County Jail on $20,000.

The fifth man who was arrested Monday is being held in the Douglas County Jail pending charges.

McKenna said the suspects all have extensive criminal records.

"These are career criminals," he said. "They are multiple repeat offenders."

He said Baldwin is also working with other law enforcement departments to determine whether the suspects are responsible for other thefts.

"The speculation is these individuals have been committing these types of crimes in this region for several years," he said. "We're working with other agencies to see if this pattern fits other crimes."

McKenna said he was pleased with the way events unfolded Friday.

"It was a combination of excellent citizen involvement, of the security cameras and system at the business, and one thing there's no substitute for -- good solid police work," he said.

Ken Wagner, owner of Heritage Tractor, agreed saying he commended the Baldwin police department.

"I thought the Baldwin City Police Department did an excellent job in responding to it," he said. "I was really happy with that."

Wagner was also pleased with the couple that first called police about the suspicious activity.

"Citizen involvement was real key to this," he said. "My hats go off to guys like that. They did the right thing."

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