Investigators: Thief uses tractor as getaway vehicle - News, Weather & Sports

Investigators: Thief uses tractor as getaway vehicle

Chief Deputy Wayne Kessinger Chief Deputy Wayne Kessinger
Indiana Conservation Officer Jim Hash Indiana Conservation Officer Jim Hash
Gary Frederick Gary Frederick
Bat wing mower from Gary Frederick's tractor Bat wing mower from Gary Frederick's tractor

CORYDON, IN (WAVE) - A getaway by a suspected burglar that still has law enforcement scratching their heads. Police all over southern Indiana are still looking for a Kentucky man who they say got away on a stolen tractor.

"In my 40 years of law enforcement this is the first time I've had felon flee on a tractor," said Harrison County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Wayne Kessinger. "He was just having a bad day all around."

Police say it didn't start off too bad for Johnny Gattis, Jr. from Shepherdsville and his two friends, Andrew Campbell and Melissa Whitaker, who are both from Louisville. They say the group broke into a house in New Salisbury and got away with a haul.

"The car was pretty much stacked full of items that had been taken from at least that one residence that we knew about," said Indiana Conservation Officer Jim Hash. He said Whitaker, "was actually laying underneath a flat screen TV."

Then, they ran into stroke of bad luck number one: the owner of the home came back during the break-in. Police say the trio drove off and right past Officer Hash.

"Unlike most burglaries that typically happen, you get information too late to actually be effective and take law enforcement action," Hash said.

He arrested Campbell and Whitaker but says Gattis ran off, wandering several miles until he stumbled upon Gary Frederick's tractor in Georgetown.

"I'm driving up in my van from work," Frederick said.

"Here comes the landowner home and here's this person leaving in his tractor," Hash said.

"So I stopped and I got out and he tried to run over me," Frederick said.

Frederick chased him and that's when his bad luck turned into more misfortune for Gattis because he wasn't just driving the tractor but a mower too.

"It had a 15 foot bat wing on the back of it that was folded out and he wasn't smart enough to fold it up," Frederick said.

Frederick says Gattis hit a tree, knocking the mower off and shredding the hydraulic line connecting the two and spilling fluid all over the road. It was an easy tip for police.

"There's a hydraulic trail that all they've got to do is follow it," said Kessinger.

The trail ended on Gun Club Road in Georgetown, where the tractor apparently ran out of hydraulic fluid and broke down. Police say Gattis wasn't finished yet. They say he snuck onto this property and stole a car, which they say may have been his final piece of bad luck.

"The owner of the Buick Century says, 'Well he can't go very far in that one because the power steering unit is bad,'" Kessinger said. "So we figure we're going to find that one dead down the road too."

Despite all of his missteps, police say Gattis is still at large but they are looking for him.

They say the three actually broke into three homes Thursday but they're not sure where the other two are located. Investigators are also checking to see if they can connect Campbell, Whitaker and Gattis to any more home break ins around Kentuckiana.

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