COWLING

An area man faces three felony charges after allegedly stealing two vehicles and attempting to take a rifle from a man recently at a Texas County shooting range.

Robert Lon Cowling, 62, of West Plains, told the Missouri State Highway Patrol his actions on Sept. 23 were ‘like a dream’ and he thought he was on battery acid while committing the offenses. He is charged with first-degree tampering with a motor vehicle, stealing/physically taking a motor vehicle and stealing/physically taking a firearm. He was taken to the Texas County Jail.

According to a probable cause statement, Cowling apparently stole a pickup in Howell County after his vehicle broke down. It was found abandoned on Highway W and towed, the patrol said. He drove the stolen vehicle through a construction zone on Highway 17 in Texas County, allegedly passing a line of stopped vehicles and failing to stop for a construction worker with a stop sign, authorities said.

An employee operating a road construction machine said he saw the stolen vehicle go airborne and strike a pile of large rocks in a ditch before turning onto Gist Ranch Road at a high rate of speed.

Authorities said Cowling stopped around 11 a.m. at the Gist Ranch Conservation Area and confronted a man at the shooting range. The man told law officers Cowling attempted to pry his cased rifle with ammunition from him. At one point, the man quoted Cowling as saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I strike you blind.”

The man said he was able to hold onto the weapon and when he told Cowling he was a Christian, he released the case. Cowling then got into the man’s pickup, which contained another cased deer rifle, and drove away as the victim held onto the door with his feet on the running board before falling off.

The victim, who last saw Cowling headed south on Wallen Road, drove the vehicle Cowling had arrived in — stolen earlier in Howell County — to Highway 17 to seek help from the construction crew there. The second stolen vehicle was found abandoned by authorities at Tower and Ranch roads in the Gist Ranch area. An officer who arrived there found the deer rifle in the back seat. The keys were missing, and Cowling was gone.

A search for Cowling was unsuccessful and eventually terminated. Cowling was arrested at 6:30 p.m. Sunday by the patrol.

The victim at the shooting range identified Cowling from a lineup of six photos, the patrol said.

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