By Jeff Lehr
A Joplin man who was the victim of not one, but two, car thefts over the weekend found some consolation when he spotted one of them Sunday on 32nd Street and helped capture the suspected thief who was driving it.
Kevin Russell said he never noticed that his family’s 2002 Mitsubishi Montero and 1995 BMW 325i were missing from their residence at 616 S. Sergeant Ave. until about noon Saturday.
“I think everybody in our neighborhood has had their cars broken into,” Russell told the Globe in a telephone interview Monday. “But nobody’s had their car stolen.”
By the time he realized that his cars were gone, someone had been repeatedly using a bank debit card from his wallet, which Russell thinks he may have left in the Montero, to make several purchases at stores around town. His bank notified him of the activity, and he canceled the card.
He also filed a police report. But the charges that had been made on his card prompted him to begin a little detective work of his own Saturday by going to Wal-Mart and the various convenience stores where the card was used to let them know about the fraud and the times of purchases, which his bank provided.
Russell contacted his bank’s fraud division again Sunday and was told that someone had tried to use the card twice more after it had been canceled but had failed. While driving around Joplin in his father-in-law’s car Sunday afternoon in an effort to determine where those failed attempts took place, Russell happened to spot his Montero headed in the opposite direction from him on 32nd Street.
Russell, a financial adviser with a Joplin investment firm, said he turned around and followed the vehicle into the lot of a business at 1221 E. 32nd St. while trying to call police. When he pulled up behind the Montero so the driver could not drive off, the suspect got out and started to run. Russell said he aborted his call to police and shouted for bystanders to make the call as he gave pursuit.
“I just didn’t think about it,” he said. “I just got out of the car and chased him because I didn’t want him to get away.”
He caught the man, and a struggle ensued. The suspect’s shirt ripped as he twisted away from Russell and ran back toward the two vehicles. Russell said the man claimed to have a knife and threatened to stab him, but he shoved him away from the stolen vehicle’s door. The man then jumped into Russell’s father-in-law’s Jaguar, but Russell pursued him and wrestled with him in the driver’s seat in an effort to keep him from putting it in gear.
The Jaguar shot forward a short distance, sideswiping the Montero, before he got it back in park, Russell said. Another struggle ensued for control of a baseball bat that was inside the Jaguar, and the car’s windshield got cracked.
Russell said he then pursued the man to a garage, where he struck him with the bat twice in an effort to get him to lie down until police arrived. He said officers arrived moments later, and the man was arrested. He said police told him that the suspect, James P. Jones, 37, had 11 outstanding warrants.
Jones, who is listed as homeless, was charged by the Jasper County prosecutor’s office on Monday with felony tampering. Police also cited him with misdemeanor tampering for the alleged attempt to take the Jaguar and misdemeanor property damage for alleged harm done to the father-in-law’s car. Police said other charges could be pending.
Police said Russell’s debit card was found inside the Montero, along with receipts and a gift card from Wal-Mart, and a payroll check belonging to another person. Russell told the Globe that the interior of the car had been damaged, including some burn spots on the carpet, possibly from a container of muriatic acid the suspect had with him. He said he also found in the Montero some syringes, numerous batteries, six small flashlights, some clothing and various items he believes had been in his BMW.
The white BMW has yet to be located, Russell said. He said police told him that Jones is not talking about any help he may have had in the alleged theft of the two vehicles.
A separate Joplin police report indicates that James P. Jones’ stay in the Joplin City Jail did not get off to a particularly comfortable start. Early Monday morning, a jailer spotted three other inmates in the holding cell with the suspect, reportedly drawing on his face and buttocks with a magic marker while he was sleeping off what was described as his “intoxicated condition.” The other inmates were cited for misdemeanor assault.
By Jeff Lehr
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