Neighbors stick together. At least they do in the North Foothills area.
Here, among rolling hills and open fields, they harvest hay together. They burn bluegrass fields together. They even catch burglary suspects together.
The farmers joined forces Monday after a stranger harassed a 15-year-old neighbor girl, swiped a shotgun out of her parents’ garage then drove off in a pickup truck. The same man apparently burglarized a nearby home, stealing a case of beer before he was finally captured, police said.
A group of neighborhood men forced the suspect off the road Monday afternoon, dragged him from his vehicle, doused him with pepper spray and held him for sheriff’s deputies.
Patrick J. Haight, of 1828 E. Courtland in Spokane, was arrested for residential burglary and theft of a firearm, and booked into the Spokane County Jail Monday night.
“The guy didn’t have a chance,” said Jay Atwood, who had been working at his parents’ house across the road from the Little’s.
“He was surrounded by a bunch of farmers,” added nearby resident Mike Olinger. “There was nowhere to go.”
Haight, 36, has a long rap sheet, including convictions for assault, theft, burglary, reckless driving, vehicle theft and DUI.
Some Foothills residents wonder if Monday’s crimes are connected to others that have plagued their rural area.
“There have been quite a slew of (thefts) on Foothills, Frederick and Scribner,” said neighbor Cindy Kaelin, who spotted the suspect and alerted neighbors with a two-way radio.
Several people, including Olinger, responded.
“I just lost my brand new motorcycle two weeks ago,” Olinger said. “I was primed and ready (to fight back).
It all started early in the afternoon while 15-year-old Jenny Little was home alone working in her parents’ barn. A stranger, driving a black pickup truck down dead-end Lincoln Road, pulled into her family’s driveway and parked.
When she walked over to the pickup to find out what the man wanted, she noticed a bottle of liquor in the cab. The man was tall, thin and shirtless with numerous tattoos. He also was acting intoxicated, she said.
The stranger asked Little if she had any gasoline to give him. He also asked her for some beer.
The teen told him she didn’t have either and asked him to leave. He didn’t, so she finally gave him a container of fuel left over from last November’s ice storm.
He then asked her “Do you want to help me put it in?”
Afraid of what he might do next, the teen ran inside her house and locked all the doors. The man banged on the inside garage door for awhile, then left, taking a shotgun that belonged to Little’s grandfather.
In some neighborhoods, it’s relatively easy for a crime suspect to slip away.
But on Monday, farmers in the Foothills area were burning bluegrass - and most were armed with two-way radios, which they use to monitor smoke conditions and stay in touch with one another.
In addition, a neighbor had seen the stranger take the shotgun from the Little’s garage.
As soon as the stranger drove out of her driveway, Jenny ran across the road to the neighbor’s house. They called police, then neighbor Jay Atwood left to search for the black pickup. Along the way, he found Cindy Kaelin, who was monitoring grass-field smoke. Kaelin put a message out over her radio.
Soon, everyone in the area was watching for the suspicious black pickup.
They didn’t have to wait long.
Kaelin was shocked when a man in a pickup matching Little’s description drove right past her a few minutes later, smiling and waving.
“I smiled and waved back,” Kaelin said.
Then she quickly radioed nearby farmers, telling them the suspect was headed their way.
Several of the farmers jumped into a 2-ton water tanker truck and parked it across Forker Road to block the pickup’s escape. They were soon joined by three Inland Power and Light employees who were working in the area and heard the call for help over their radios.
The suspect tried to drive around them, but got stuck in a ditch.
“He spun the tires until they smoked,” said Ron Olinger, Mike’s father. “He was just violent.”
The men grabbed the shotgun out of the pickup, pulled the suspect out of the truck and sprayed him with a form of pepper spray called “OC” spray. Besides stinging the eyes, it causes the body to produce large amounts of mucus.
The men found an open case of Miller Genuine Draft beer in the pickup’s cab, which police believe was swiped off a kitchen counter at a nearby home earlier that afternoon.
The neighbor men also found several rolls of coins in the suspect’s truck, along with a bicycle, camping gear, stereo equipment and various tools. Police believe these items might also have been stolen.
The pickup itself had also been reported stolen, sheriff’s deputies said. Even its license plates were hot. They had been taken off a Subaru, police said.
“We’re just sick and tired of this kind of stuff,” said Ron Olinger, who lost his own bike to theft last year. “Neighbors have to get together and put a stop to this.”
Sheriff’s deputies praised the community involvement, but warned that citizens should avoid confronting criminal suspects.
“You’ve got to be really careful,” said Deputy Martin Tucker, the first officer to arrive at the scene. “They’re very fortunate he didn’t have any other weapon to use on them.”
As they savored the suspect’s capture, the North Foothills area residents said they were thankful to live in a neighborhood where people still take the time to get involved.
“Our neighbors are great,” said Jenny Little. “We all watch out for each other.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 photos (2 color)
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