Monday, February 18, 2008

A Hilarious Case of GPS Being Used to Track a Stolen Truck

Theft victim uses GPS to nab suspect
By Kim Bell

The car thieves who took a tow truck from Hartmann Towing early Saturday picked on the wrong guy.

Michael Filius, the night manager at the University City business, was busy cleaning a vehicle inside the garage about 2:45 a.m. Saturday. A tow truck parked outside had been left idling, as is the custom.

Soon, he could no longer hear the noisy diesel truck's idle, so he looked out the window and saw it was missing.

Angry and a little embarrassed, Filius sprang into action. A former California corrections officer, Filius wanted to get the truck back before the thieves stripped it. So he activated the global-positioning system on board the truck to track its movement. The tow company handles calls for AAA, so Filius also got AAA to monitor the GPS and alert him on his cell phone of every location change.

Filius jumped in his Mercury Sable and started tracking the stolen truck. As he headed into north St. Louis, Filius noted that the truck has been motionless for about 3 1/2 minutes. He figured it was abandoned and went to the scene -- at Hamilton and Natural Bridge avenues.

He saw two men with the truck and was surprised they weren't kids. They looked to be in their 30s, he said.

What happened next is in dispute.

Filius said he forced the tow truck over using a "pit maneuver," something he learned attending a sheriff's academy in 1995 in California when he was learning to be a corrections officer. One of the truck's tires blew, and Filius pinned the truck in so it couldn't drive away. When the driver jumped out, Filius said, Filius accidentally drove over the man's shoe, which pinned him there until police arrived.

St. Louis police confirm Filius' account, to a point. They say Filius drove into an alley where a fleeing suspect was trying to climb a fence to escape. When the suspect slipped off the fence, Filius' car accidentally struck him. The suspect suffered bruising from being hit. A police district commander this morning said he wasn't aware the suspect's foot was pinned by Filius' tire.

Either way, police say, the 30-year-old suspect was arrested on suspicion of tampering and theft. St. Louis police say they're letting University City handle it from here; a captain with University City police said the case is under investigation but had no details on charges. A second car thief got away, apparently with Filius' wallet.

Filius said that, while he was waiting for city police to show up to arrest the car thief, the thief tried to negotiate -- saying he'd return the man's wallet if he'd let him go.

"He talked to me, then he threatened me," said Filius, 36. "He called me by my first name, because he'd seen my license."

Police in University City and St. Louis agree that Filius is lucky he wasn't hurt. They warn victims of car theft to call police, rather than try to find the car on their own.

Filius, meanwhile, said he was simply fed up with being a victim.

"I have to see these little hoodlums every day," he said. "There's a point I'm not going to take it anymore."