Intruders awaken Germantown household; police chase, nab suspects
By Clay Bailey (Contact)
Memphis Commercial Appeal
Thursday, June 12, 2008
When the intruder saw the woman on her cell phone in an upstairs bedroom, he grabbed it and destroyed it.
But the caller already had contacted Germantown police, sending officers to the Bedford Plantation subdivision.
When Germantown officer Jason Heath saw a white utility van leaving the posh subdivision, he noticed a man in the vehicle duck down. That made him suspicious, starting a chase that reached 90 mph along Tenn. 385 and ended 25 miles away near Downtown Memphis with a wrecked van, a damaged police car and five of the seven van occupants under arrest.
Officers found cash and jewelry taken from the residence in the 9700 block of William Brown at the scene where the van crashed into a Memphis police car near Keel and Bellevue just north of Jackson, said Insp. Lee Covey of the Germantown police.
And authorities across the county are wondering if the men in custody, who had not been identified Thursday evening, could be responsible for other home invasions from Meeman-Shelby Forest to DeSoto County.
"Obviously, at this point, there are a lot of similarities," Germantown police Capt. Alan Keller said in the hours after the break-in. "And it has not been ruled out."
'Where's the money?'
"I think there's a robbery," the female voice whispered on the Germantown 911 line. The call was made at about 2:50 a.m. from the home on William Brown.
The woman was upstairs while a group of men was crashing through a window, screaming that they were the FBI and demanding occupants tell them where to find the money. Inside the house was Jeffrey A. Land, who was staying at the house but is not the owner.
Land, 50, one of seven people in the house early Thursday, had gone to bed at about midnight, his Yorkie-poodle mix Sasha asleep in the bed with him. Suddenly, three men -- one wearing a headlamp, one with a flashlight and the third with a handgun -- were in the room.
"They identified themselves as the FBI," Land said, adding that the intruders cuffed his hands in front of him before leading him downstairs with the other occupants of the house, who also were handcuffed.
Land initially thought, " 'They must be in the wrong house.' It didn't dawn on me that it was a home invasion. It was surreal."
The invaders were in dark clothes, ski masks and gloves.
Similar to what happened in several other earlier home invasions, Land said one of the robbers demanded, "Where's the money?" According to public records, Thoeurn Chan and his wife, Mon or Mom Hourn own the $652,000 two-story home. The couple 1/2 own two jewelry shops, Crown Jewelry and Handiwork Jewelry, in Memphis.
'The dog snitched him out'
Two minutes after the whispered warning to the 911 operator, Heath pulled into Bedford Plantation.
And when the one man ducked down inside the speeding van, a suspicious Heath followed.
The van was stolen. The license plate didn't match.
The chase adhered to Germantown police policies allowing officers to pursue violent felons.
"At that time of the morning, there are fewer dangers to the public than there would be during the daytime hours," Covey said.
The suspects exited Interstate 240 at Jackson in North Memphis and sped along Keel onto Bellevue, broadsiding a Memphis police car driving by.
The van careened across Bellevue and smashed into a gate. At least seven people scrambled out of the white van and scattered. Responding officers caught five. They are still looking for two others.
Thurman Shields, 57, heard the sound of the crashing van and jumped to his window.
"When it boomed real hard, I looked out the window and saw the van rolling into the fence," Shields said.
He got dressed and looked again. The neighborhood was crawling with police officers. He later counted 45 patrol cars, a pair of helicopters and two police dogs involved in the search.
One of the dogs coaxed a man from under a pickup truck, Shields said.
"They were fixing to walk away, and the dog started barking," Shields said. "The dog snitched him out."
Crime similar to others
As Germantown police investigated Thursday morning's incident, they were wondering whether it was connected to a string of similar invasion late last year and earlier this year.
Other home invasions occurred in Germantown; in Nesbit, Miss.; a break-in near Meeman-Shelby Forest; and another case in Bartlett. They occurred in the middle of the night, the intruders dressed in dark clothing and ski masks, handcuffs or zip ties available to bind the victims, who, in many cases, own businesses that deal in a large amount of cash.
By noon Thursday, Land, barefoot and wearing blue jeans and a long-sleeve shirt, hadn't slept since being roused out of his bed. No one was hurt during the ordeal on William Brown, and the officer whose car was hit suffered noncritical injuries.
"What happened to my family is irrelevant," Land said philosophically. "Until the area is unsafe for criminals, it will be unsafe for citizens. We need to dig the cancer out, attack the criminals and take the offensive to drive them out of here."
Staff reporters Hank Dudding, Lela Garlington and Matt Woo contributed to this report.
-- Clay Bailey: 529-5263