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Airborne pilot spots theft as it occurs at his Florida home and pursues suspect; Stafford man charged

Date published: 1/3/2013


Pilot David Zehntner was flying his single-engine Cessna from Franklin, N.C., over his primary home in LaBelle, Fla., when he spotted a man peering into it.

He lowered his plane's altitude and watched as the man attached Zehntner's red trailer to a silver pickup truck and drove away.

He followed the pickup until he was sure of the truck's route and then landed at LaBelle's airport--about 30 miles east of Fort Myers--to phone police.

A Stafford County man, Gary Robert Haines, 59, and the trailer were apprehended at a traffic stop in adjacent Charlotte County.

Zehntner traveled there and reclaimed his trailer, the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office reported.

Police at the scene searched Haines' vehicle and found a rifle with one bullet in the chamber and ammunition on the floorboard of the truck, the report states.

Detective John Sadler arrived to question Haines, but he "refused to respond," the agency reported.

Haines, who was charged with grand theft, was released from the Charlotte County Jail on Monday on a $2,500 bond.

Florida authorities said the investigation into the theft and the weapon are ongoing.

Charlotte County Sheriff's Office spokesman Bob Carpenter said he has never heard of a homeowner catching a thief from the air, but lawmen in the agency's helicopter have caught thieves committing crimes in the county before.

Zehntner could not be reached for comment, but he told ABC News in an interview that "it was quite an experience. Not sure it's something I'd want to do every day, but the outcome is pleasing. It was worth it."

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976
Email: lestes@freelancestar.com