Resident finds three men with stolen car, calls 9-1-1, guards them until police arrive

SCOTT GUTIERREZ THE OLYMPIAN

Josh Lenoue had stepped onto his front porch when he heard noises coming from the woods near his neighbor\'s property.
It was after sunset, and he could see lights that flickered off from the trees when he walked by to investigate.

Lenoue hurried back to his house, grabbed a flashlight and a .22-caliber handgun, summoned his German shepherd and went back outside.

As he crept closer to the area at 5:55 p.m. Wednesday, three men appeared out of the darkness, approaching him.

The 29-year-old commercial truck driver pointed his gun and ordered them to the ground.

It turned out that Lenoue had observed car headlights. He had interrupted three men who, according to police, were taking parts from a stolen car.

\"As soon as I shined the flashlight on them, I knew what was going on,\" Lenoue said Thursday, saying the men told him they were repairing the car for a friend.

Lenoue used his cell phone to call 9-1-1 while he watched over the three men, drawing Thurston County Sheriff\'s deputies to his neighborhood in the 8100 block of 61st Avenue Northeast, near Tolmie State Park. Deputies arrested three male suspects.

The sheriff\'s office doesn\'t encourage citizens to take matters into their own hands, sheriff\'s Capt. Dan Kimball said. But, without Lenoue\'s intervention, deputies probably would have had little success in tracking the thieves, he said.

Lenoue said he\'s not sure how he would have reacted if the men had attacked him.

\"It never popped into my head to shoot anybody over what they were doing,\" he said.

Lenoue, who\'s married and has one child, said he didn\'t expect to be interfering with a crime. \"Stealing a car is not worth getting shot over,\" he said.

\"I wasn\'t taking the law into my own hands,\" he said. \"I was only investigating my neighbor\'s property. I was a concerned neighbor.\"

Heng Hak, 18, of Lacey and Virith Chrun, 18, of Olympia were booked into Thurston County Jail on suspicion of first-degree possession of stolen property, Kimball said. The name of the third suspect, a juvenile, was not released.

The three suspects had taken the wheels and tires from the 1998 Honda Civic and were stashing them in their own car, Kimball said. They likely were about to leave when Lenoue interrupted them, Kimball said.

Chrun has past convictions for possession of stolen property and eluding police, Kimball said.

The Civic hadn\'t been reported stolen. Deputies discovered it belonged to a 22-year-old woman working at Westfield Shoppingtown Capital mall, who thought her car was still in the parking lot, Kimball said.

Investigators don\'t know why the three men drove the car to the property where Lenoue found them, Kimball said.

Car theft cases typically are difficult to investigate. Despite having a witness who saw the men taking parts from the car, authorities don\'t have enough evidence to prove they stole it, he said.

\"They\'re really hard to prosecute unless you catch them red-handed,\" Kimball said.

Olympia police followed up on the theft because it occurred in city limits. There hasn\'t been a rash of stolen cars from the mall parking lot recently, Olympia Sgt. Keith Tipton said.

\"It will probably pick up in another month as it gets closer to Christmas,\" he said.

Scott Gutierrez covers crime and public safety for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5465 or sgutierr@olympia.gannett.com.