Robbery suspect leads police on chase

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Mike Owens’ daughters, teenage students at Morgan Academy, have exams today.

But after a robbery suspect crashed his van into Owens’ front yard and hid in nearby woods, he doubts they’ll be able to concentrate on their tests.

“This is an exam night,” he said, looking into the thick woods, his rifle within easy reach on the toolbox of his truck. “I don’t think they’re going to study.”

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Owens got a call from his wife at about 6:30 yesterday evening.

“All I heard her holler was ‘Somebody’s loose,'” the catfish farm manager said.

Being just “one pond over,” Owens said he was in his front yard about 30 seconds later, and found out that the yard, and about 10 acres of heavy brush beside it, was the scene of a manhunt.

“Thank God he (the suspect) didn’t run into my house,” Owens said.

His wife and daughters were home when the red van crashed into the ditch in Owens’ front yard, and skidded to a stop about 20 miles outside of Demopolis and about 15 miles away from Selma on Highway 80W.

Within minutes, Owens said, police swarmed the farm, owned by Harvest Fresh Catfish, and commandeered his property to serve as a makeshift

command center and landing pad for the search helicopters.

Officers from at least four different law enforcement agencies converged on the wooded location and quickly set up a perimeter.

State Trooper Lt. G. Kuntz said the suspect was in the woods and the officers would try to “coax” him out as the night progressed. As of presstime, the suspect was still at large.

Owens was told that the man in question, described to him only as a black male, was suspected of robbing an ABC store in Demopolis at gunpoint and then leading police on a high-speed chase down Highway 80 in a red van with Pasagoula, Miss. plates.

“(He) wrecked in front of my yard,” he said.

Owens said his wife and a daughter ran out to the scene of the crash to see if anyone was hurt, when the man left the van and ran into the nearby woods.

Owens immediately got his family indoors, grabbed his .17 caliber rifle and set up a remote controlled spotlight to help officers monitor the area.

Officers, including a tactical unit, set up a perimeter, and called in helicopters with heat imaging and night vision cameras to aid in the search.

State Trooper Lt. G. Kuntz said the search would probably be successful.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to locate (him),” Kuntz said. “The odds are definitely on our side.”