The man told the employees of D&B Farm and Home in Coeur d’Alene that he needed some clothes for a welding job he’d landed. He gathered up Carhartt pants, work gloves and hiking boots and headed toward the register.
But it doesn’t appear William E. Pfaff, of Spokane, will be showing up for a new job anytime soon.
For two hours on a beautiful day in Kootenai County, as bewildered residents watched from their yards, a man police identified as Pfaff led a pack of police cars on a chase as he stole four vehicles, ripped through fences and yards, hit parked cars and knocked down trees and light posts.
“This is not a good day,” said Kootenai County sheriff’s Sgt. Lee Richardson.
Perhaps amazingly, no one was injured.
Police said Pfaff arrived at the D&B in a stolen car with Washington plates. They say the chase began when Pfaff ran out of D&B with his arms full of stolen clothing. It ended when his fifth stolen vehicle crashed through a fence and down to the railroad tracks on the east side of Post Falls, just north of Maplewood Avenue.
As the maroon pickup hung in chain-link fence above the railroad track embankment, the 36-year-old with the “White Power” tattoo on his stomach was arrested shirtless and taken into custody. Coeur d’Alene police Lt. Bill McLeod said Pfaff will be charged with robbery, felony eluding of police and numerous counts of malicious injury to property.
“He didn’t want to be stopped,” McLeod said.
Officers from four law enforcement agencies will spend hours, perhaps days, piecing together what happened and taking property damage reports, McLeod said. On the path of destruction, residents talked in driveways and leaned against fences, some with cameras slung over their necks.
McLeod credited those residents, many of whom were doing yard work, for continually calling to update police on the driver’s location as he flew through residential neighborhoods in Coeur d’Alene, Dalton Gardens and Post Falls. Pfaff is accused of stealing trucks at the Fred Meyer loading dock off U.S. Highway 95; at the Kootenai County Transfer Station on Ramsey Road; and at two locations near Maplewood Avenue in Post Falls.
Police and witnesses give this account of the chase:
Employees at the D&B chased the man out of the store, and he briefly jumped into his car, then crawled over the front seat into the back and out a back door. He ran away with a D&B customer chasing him in a car. As the customer drew near him, D&B employees said, the man flashed a knife, and the customer backed off. McLeod said Saturday that police had not found a weapon.
“Crazy, all for about $100 worth of merchandise,” said Heidi Read, who works at D&B.
The man then arrived at the Fred Meyer loading dock, where a woman was loading some items. He pushed her out of the way, jumped into her truck and took off, almost ramming a sheriff’s car, McLeod said.
Following residents’ reports from Coeur d’Alene and Dalton Gardens, police chased the man as he drove through yards and fences, traveling about 60 mph through residential neighborhoods and smashing through at least one locked gate.
The man abandoned the truck near a beer distributor just west of Fred Meyer and jumped a fence into the county’s transfer station nearby, where he took a county truck, McLeod said. He drove that truck to the Centennial Trail, where it got stuck in sand on an embankment near Huetter Road.
Police believe the man took two other trucks from that area east of Post Falls, but are not sure precisely where the second was taken from, McLeod said.
The first was taken from Cyndie Johnson, who was working in her yard on the 6800 block of Maplewood when a man came walking down the beach, along the Spokane River. She assumed he was a construction worker because new homes were being built nearby, she said. He asked how to get to the main road so she talked to him for a minute, then turned away to go talk to her son. She heard tires squealing and looked back to see the man stealing her pickup. He ran over a light post and a tree and took off down the road, she said.
“We had been in and out, so the keys were in the car,” she said.
Phil Perry was working in a far back corner of his yard at 4403 W. Redding in Coeur d’Alene when a truck busted through his next door neighbor’s vinyl fence, scattering white strips of jagged fencing. Perry jumped back just in time as the truck flew by, clipping boards off his own fence.
“It happened so gol-darn quick,” Perry said. “I just jumped.”
Next door, on Canterbury Road, Vilma Sedy said she was thankful that her three young children were at her parents’ house when the truck hit her car, then flew through her back yard and took out her fence. The children, ages 4, 5 and 7, usually play in that spot in the back yard, she said.
“Thank God my kids weren’t here,” Sedy said. “They’re always in the back yard.”