By Shelley Grieshop
Thanks to several local citizens two would-be shoplifters were apprehended, sentenced and behind bars within four hours Tuesday.
Two Lima-area men got the surprise of their life when they tried to shoplift a few items from Kmart in St. Marys shortly after noon, explained St. Marys Police Chief Greg Foxhoven.
"Several employees and a few customers tried to stop the men as they fled to their vehicle in the parking lot," Foxhoven said.
The two 19-year-olds, Nathaniel R. Thompson and Alan M. Hicks, dropped most of the stolen merchandise in the lot as they scrambled to get away from the mob and get in their car, he added.
But as the men fled the lot, an area man saw what was happening and decided to follow the Ford Taurus as it left the city limits. By cell phone, the man -- who asked his name not be released -- notified law enforcement and continued to give updates by cell phone on the suspects' location and description as he followed them to Rockford. "The guy followed them at a safe distance, he did everything right, and stayed with them even though they were turning down roads trying to lose him," Foxhoven said.
Mercer County Sheriff's deputies and Rockford police were alerted and on the lookout for the vehicle as it approached the village.
Rockford Police Chief Paul May said he and another officer were driving on the outskirts of town when the suspect car headed toward them.
"We weren't sure if it was the right one at first because the passenger looked like a female," May said.
But the man who was following the thieves saw the police car and flashed his headlights at them, alerting them to the fugitives, May explained.
"He verified for us what we were thinking and got us to turn around right then," May said.
If not for the quick thinking of the man law enforcement call a "hero," the suspects would have never been caught, May admitted.
"We were a second away from never seeing this vehicle again," he said.
The suspects tried to park their vehicle between other cars near Parkway High School but were eventually found and arrested within 50 feet of the school. The arrest was made without incident, May said.
May said he is filing drug charges against the passenger who was found with marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia. The driver also will be charged by Rockford police for driving with a suspended operator's license.
May said the men had little to say about the incident, but when asked why they were fleeing, they told him, "because people were chasing us."
May agreed with Foxhoven about the bravery and "smart moves" made by the good Samaritan who brought the pair to justice. They'd like to publicly credit him but will honor his right to anonymity.
"We need way more citizens like that," May said.
Thompson and Hicks were brought from the scene to Judge Gary Herman's courtroom in Auglaize County Municipal Court and each pleaded no contest to one count of theft. The men, who have criminal records, were both sentenced to six months in jail and began serving time immediately.
Foxhoven said the outcome was a good one, even though officers don't typically recommend the public be aggressive in incidents such as this. He was happy -- and perhaps a little smug -- to report that the duo who once shared a home on Cole Street in Lima now will keep each other company in Wapakoneta, Foxhoven said.
"They were roommates and now they're cellmates," he added.