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‘Prince of neighbors’ interrupts burglary, holds suspect at gunpoint

Sat., April 25, 2009

It pays to know your neighbors.

Bob and Doris Briley learned this firsthand Friday when a neighbor armed with a gun stopped an alleged would-be thief carting off machinery from the Spokane couple’s garage.

Taken into custody by Spokane police was Frank D. Baxter, 37, who was being held at gunpoint in the 2600 block of West Longfellow Avenue by Ronald L. Warner, 53, who called 911 and waited for officers to arrive.

“I put the gun to the back of his head and said this isn’t a game,” Warner said.

Bob Briley, 85, called Warner “the prince of neighbors.”

“He looks after his neighbors just like he looks after his own family,” Briley said. Warner has lived next door to the couple for 12 years.

Police said they expect home burglaries to increase as the weather warms and people become more relaxed about leaving windows and doors open.

Keep your home locked, Officer Glenn Bartlett said, but also get to know your neighbors.

“We don’t want any vigilantes or anything like that, but this guy was completely reasonable,” Bartlett said. “He called 911 before he confronted the guy. He wasn’t trying to extricate any justice from him.”

Warner spotted Baxter driving through the neighborhood several times before stopping to knock on the front door of the Brileys’ home about 11 a.m., Bartlett said. Bob Briley wasn’t home, and Doris Briley – his wife of 62 years – didn’t answer the door because she didn’t recognize the man.

Minutes later, Baxter returned to the home, where the Brileys have lived since 1951, backed his pickup into the driveway and started loading machinery from the garage, police said.

That’s when Warner showed up.

“When the guy came out of the garage carrying a heavy lawnmower, Ron jumped him,” Bob Briley said.

Warner said Baxter tried to back away, and Warner grabbed the hood of Baxter’s sweatshirt and took him to the ground. Baxter resisted and kept trying to get up, begging for Warner to let him go, he said.

Warner said Baxter told him he was stealing to get money to feed his kids because he had lost his job.

“He just made me more mad,” Warner said.

Baxter tried to roll over, and Warner said he stepped on his ankle and on his back and continued to point the gun at him.

“I told him, ‘I’m just going to cap you if you don’t stop,’ ” Warner said.

The lawnmower and a broken snowblower were recovered, police said, and Baxter was booked into Spokane County Jail on one charge of second-degree burglary.

“This very easily could have been one of those burglaries that went unsolved,” Bartlett said. referring to the fact that the garage door was open and no forensic evidence was left.

“Get to know your neighbors. This is a great example of that.”

Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or at meghannc@ Staff writer Sara Leaming contributed to this report.

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