When John Jones, 26, saw a $50,000 Olympia Fire Department command vehicle parked unlocked, with the keys in the ignition at OFD headquarters about 9:50 p.m. Tuesday night, a voice inside his head told him to “take it,” court papers state.
“Jones said all he could think about was keeping to the right and keeping his foot to the floor,” an arresting officer stated in a report.
About 20 minutes later, as Jones led multiple police cars on a high-speed chase on Old Highway 99 in Tenino, he struck a spike strip laid on the roadway by a Tenino police officer.
The stolen emergency command vehicle slid off the road after three tires popped and it came to a stop in some small trees.
The joyride had come to an end.
The fire department’s vehicle suffered severe damage to its tires and rims, as well as the front bumper. The damage has rendered it unserviceable and it will require major repairs, court papers state.
The brazen theft of the fire incident command vehicle outside the Olympia Fire Department’s downtown headquarters on Eastside Street had local emergency responders shaking their heads in disbelief.
Olympia Assistant Fire Chief Pat Dale said someone stealing a fire vehicle is “completely crazy” and he has never heard of it happening before in Olympia.
On Wednesday afternoon, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy ordered Jones held at the Thurston County Jail on suspicion of motor vehicle theft and attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle. She set Jones’ bail at $5,000. She also ordered that Jones undergo a “safe to be at-large” evaluation, a common occurrence when there are concerns about a suspect’s mental health.
An Olympia Fire Department battalion chief had left the 2006 Ford Expedition unlocked with the keys in the ignition Tuesday night while the department was fighting a fully-involved structure fire in the 2000 block of Arietta Avenue.
The battalion chief left the vehicle unattended for about five minutes, and when he exited the fire station on Eastside Street to return to the fire, it was gone, court papers state.
The theft of the battalion chief’s command vehicle “hampered and delayed” his “ability to perform his duties during the active fire,” court papers state.
All local law enforcement agencies were notified immediately of the theft. A Tumwater officer pursued the stolen OFD command vehicle on Capitol Boulevard, and tried to pull it over, but the driver refused to stop. The driver of the stolen vehicle was speeding through red traffic lights, and driving erratically, court papers state.
A chase ensued with police from multiple jurisdictions pursuing the stolen vehicle. A Tenino police officer laid a “spike strip” out on Old Highway 99. Spike strips are designed to disable a vehicle by puncturing its tires. When the stolen Olympia fire vehicle ran over the spike strips, it lost control and slid off the roadway, Olympia Police Sgt. Aaron Jelcick said.
The driver was placed under arrest. Jelcick said Jones did not appear to be intoxicated, but “mental health concerns are being taken into consideration.”