Man leads deputies to capture burglars after chase

Saturday, October 5, 2002

A rural Cape Girardeau County man didn't like it when two burglars tried to run him over in front of his home Thursday afternoon, so he and his father-in-law got in his truck and drove after them.

"With them robbing my house, I just felt violated," said Charles Gass, who lives near Pocahontas. "But the main thing that got me mad was they tried to run me over in my front yard."

Gass said he was a few thousand feet away from his home, talking with his father-in-law, Paul Ruehling, when about noon he noticed a strange car at his house. At first, he thought it belonged to technicians from a pool service who were supposed to help him prepare his new swimming pool for the winter. But he decided to investigate.

"They went out through the back door where they had a car parked," Ruehling said. "We shouted 'whoa' and 'stop,' but they just kept driving."

Gass said the passenger in the car yelled to the driver to run him over.

"He had to jump over the side of their car," Ruehling said. "I don't think they were trying to run him over, but they kept driving slow to let him know they were going to go through."

As the suspects drove off, Ruehling picked up some rocks and threw them at the suspects' car.

"I never hit them, but I was only trying to make a mark on the car so it could be identified later," he said.

Car chase

The victims jumped back into their truck and took off after the burglars.

"I saw that Illinois license plate on the car and was afraid they'd get back over the river and we'd never catch them," Gass said.

The chase, which at times reached 90 mph, wound along Route C to Highway 61, almost reaching Jackson, Gass said. They called 911 while in pursuit of the suspects.

"If I didn't have my cell phone, I don't think we would've caught them," Gass said.

Deputies managed to stop the suspects at the intersection of Route V and Route Y near Oriole by flattening their tires with a stop stick, a device used by law enforcement to slowly and safely deflate tires in pursuits.

Gary E. Watson, 32, of Jonesboro, Ill., and Michael A. Thetford, 19, of Murphysboro, Ill., are each charged with two felony counts of second-degree burglary and one felony count of receiving stolen property. The suspects remain in custody, each in lieu of a $50,000 bond.

Inside the suspects' car, deputies found guns, cameras and other items stolen in burglaries in Southern Illinois.

Thetford was interviewed and told investigators he and Watson had broken into the residence at 4716 County Road 532 and into the trailer next door, said deputy Rhonda Westrich in a probable-cause statement.

Other charges for unlawful use of a weapon are pending after it was reported Watson pointed a handgun at the victims' vehicle while they were in pursuit, Westrich said.

"It sure looked like a gun to me," Ruehling said. "They pointed it at us twice."

The passenger leaned out of the moving vehicle up to his waist to aim the gun, Gass said. But Gass said he was too upset about being attacked in front of his home to be afraid of a gun.

Gass had been prepared for burglars, he said. A security system is installed in his home. But on Thursday, he hadn't bothered to turn it on because he was just down the road visiting his father-in-law.

"I hadn't really left my home, so I didn't think to turn it on," Gass said. "I've got it set so it goes off automatically now."

News editor Tony Hall contributed to this report.

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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