Less than 24 hours after the Houston Police Department received word earlier this week that a van had been swiped, the vehicle was found and a suspect apprehended.
The case began to unfold at about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday when police were notified that a van owned by an employee of Texas County Memorial Hospital had been stolen. HPD Chief Jim McNiell said the 1990 Chevrolet G20 van had been parked in the gravel lot behind the KFC-Taco Bell building and that it was unlocked and its keys and its owner’s wallet were inside.
McNiell said a local man who had earlier been escorted from the hospital (for unreported reasons) was tabbed as a possible suspect. Working the nightshift, Cpl. David Kidwell inquired at three all night businesses in Houston to see if the man had shown up and attempted to use the van owner’s debit card. All three indicated he had; two had denied him use of the card, but he was able to make a purchase (of unreported nature) at the other.
Surveillance video at each location showed the same man.
The van was later located parked behind the City of Houston maintenance shed on Highway 17. After daybreak, officers followed tracks in the snow from the van to a home several houses up the highway.
When they knocked on the door, a man answered whose appearance matched that of the man seen on video at all three businesses. He was arrested and taken to the Texas County Jail, but denied any knowledge of the van or use of the card, and asked for an attorney.
McNiell said a call later came in from the jail indicating the suspect wanted to talk with officers again. This time he waived his right to an attorney and confessed to using the debit card, but not to the theft of the van.
McNiell said investigation revealed that the 26-year-old suspect had come across the van after leaving the hospital and gotten inside, where he found the wallet. He is also alleged to have stolen hydrocodone pills and cash from the van. The shoes he was wearing matched the footprints officers observed in the snow, and the jacket he was wearing matched the one worn by the man seen in video.
The suspect reportedly told officers he had thrown the van owner’s driver’s license on the ground in the Walmart parking lot, and it was found in the precise location he described.
A significant amount of tools that were in the van when it was swiped were still there when it was recovered.
“This was very good police work all the way around,” McNiell said. “Some officers who don’t have the initiative Cpl. Kidwell has might have recovered the vehicle and that might be as far as it went. But officers followed leads and tracks and got lucky because he happened to be there.
“David comes on before midnight and he was probably still here at about one o’clock the next day working on this case.”
A probable cause statement was sent to the county prosecutor seeking charges of motor vehicle theft, stealing over $500 and unlawful use of a credit device. The suspect is also already on probation and will likely face probation violation charges.