Wheaton church van stolen, involved in police chase

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Pastor: ‘I’m still trying to get my head wrapped around [it]’

A local pastor is still coming to terms with the events of last week, as his church’s van was stolen and involved in a police chase into Oklahoma.

According to reports, Jerry Rowe, 36, of Noel, allegedly stole the van from the First Baptist Church in Wheaton and was in Neosho when spotted by Newton County Deputy Joe Childers.

Childers drove through the McDonald’s parking lot at about 6:45 a.m. and noticed pry marks on the van’s door and said the driver was acting “extremely nervous.”

Childers followed the van and a pursuit was initiated, going through Seneca, where police successfully deployed spike strips on Highway 50 near the Indigo Sky Casino in Oklahoma. Speeds during the chase reached 80 miles per hour.

Rowe turned the van into a field, where it became stuck in mud, then he allegedly fled on foot but was captured.

Kenneth Carney, pastor at First Baptist Church, said he was alerted to the incident after everything had happened.

“We got a knock on our door at about 7 a.m. from Wheaton police saying our van had been stolen,” he said. “By then, the chase had already happened and everything was said and done.”

Carney said the church has submitted a claim to insurance, and the van is still in Commerce, Okla.

“We turned it over to insurance and are waiting to hear from them,” he said. “Ridgetop Bible camp has a van they use to transport kids in the summer, and they are allowing us to use it until we get our situation figured out.”

Carney said the situation has been a new one for him.

“I’m still trying to get my head wrapped around the fact our church van was involved in a high-speed chase,” he said.

Rowe is charged with vehicle theft and resisting arrest. He also has multiple felony warrants outstanding.

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