PRINCETON — Recognized just a few weeks ago as Gibson County Deputies of the Year, officers Jennifer Loesch and U.B. Smith met their match Sunday night in one-on-on confrontations with reckless drivers who travel a break-neck route across the county each year.
Sunday's snowfall and dropping temperatures kept everyone hopping, as slick roads caused several accidents on U.S. 41, Interstate 69 and Old 41 that evening.
Just when things were beginning to settle down, Gibson County Central Dispatch issued a "Be On the Lookout" alert at 8:42 p.m. to a report of a suspicious person dropping packages off at homes across the east side of Gibson County.
Central dispatch reported a caller's description of a big red sleigh pulled by reindeer, license plate SANTA1, westbound into Oakland City. Oakland City Police Chief Tim Gaines activated his siren and tracked the vehicle south on Franklin Street, then on College Street. Gaines reported seeing a red light at the front of the vehicle, which was making evasive maneuvers.
Gaines, cautious of the slick roadways, told central dispatch, "I can't keep up. He’s got to be headed about MACH 3,” headed toward Francisco. He asked dispatch to contact Indiana State Police to dispatch a helicopter from Indianapolis to assist in the pursuit.
Before ISP could be notified, Francisco's Town Marshal confirmed the driver had already made two laps around town, throwing out items, and tracking west on Ind. 64 toward Princeton.
That's when Loesch joined the pursuit, reporting a "green subject trying to take the packages." Loesch, traveling westbound on East Broadway, reported seeing "an older white man with a big beard being pursued by a big green Grinch-like creature."
The deputy asked for assistance in the pursuit of the red sleigh, and got a plate number on the green character: GRINCH1, as the sleigh flew over the old middle school.
Central dispatch warned officers joining in the pursuit to be cautious of candy cane debris coming from the elusive driver. An officer reported that his windshield was broken last year by the flying candy canes.
Loesch activated her priority siren, reporting the reckless sleigh operator was traveling over Warnock mobile home park, then veered west toward Wal-mart. Police mentioned deploying "stop-sticks" but didn't take that action at that time.
Loesch continued in the pursuit and reported that the drivers were heading south on U.S. 41 toward Fort Branch. "This green subject is still following behind, he looks like he might be trying to hit this sleigh,” Loesch reported.
Haubstadt Town Marshall Glenn Munnier reported spotting the sleigh operator traveling rooftop to rooftop, throwing packages. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he reported.
Loesch southbound on 41, spotted the green character, reporting to central dispatch, “I think he’s kind of furry,” and asking for a criminal history check. Dispatch reported “GRINCH1” is wanted for stealing presents and Christmas decorations, so Loesch asked permission to deploy a net gun to capture him.
She confirmed the sleigh and the green subject were traveling south on Fort Branch-Haubstadt Road, “It’s just a blur of green and red, lots of things being thrown out.”
The sleigh operator apparently had access to a police radio, because the police scanner picked up some "Ho, Ho, Ho" laughter as the operator took some high altitude evasive maneuver. Loesch reported, “It doesn’t seem to matter what this Grinch1 character does, Santa just keeps going.”
Munnier alerted Owensville officers that the sleigh was traveling west toward Owensville, but officers soon found out for themselves, encountering the oncoming sleigh traveling along Ind. 168 at 100 mph.
Loesch fired that net gun, hoping to snag the crazy drivers, but SANTA1 and GRINCH1 were too fast for the net guns. Loesch reported, “Somebody got hit with some pepper(mint) spray.”
Loesch traveled north toward Lyles Station, hoping to stop Grinch 1. “I don’t think we can let him stop Christmas,” she vowed.
Within seconds, she reported a red and green light “coming at me fast,” near Wayman Chapel AME Church. “I’m gonna take a shot.” Loesch reported. “Dispatch! I’ve got him!” she confirmed, asking for assistance to "get the green guy in cuffs and off to jail.
“Yep, he’s a mean one!” Loesch reported of the subject in custody.
Central Dispatch assured that backup officers will “be ready for whatever the Grinch can throw at them,” after Loesch reported that she had to use a Taser weapon twice. While the green suspect was taken into custody, Loesch reported that it appeared the SANTA1 vehicle was traveling to Patoka.
Deputy U.B. Smith reported he would try to get to U.S. 41 North to deploy stop sticks.
Loesch headed toward Patoka, reported “Right now he’s a red streak in the sky,” but he still appeared to be throwing presents. “Santa still needs to slow down,” Loesch reported to central dispatch. “He’s got a job to do, but he still needs to be safe.”
“That is affirmative,” dispatch responded. “Safety First!”
Smith reported he could see the sleigh traveling along U.S. 41 northbound. “I think he’s going to pull over for me, looks like he’s settin’ her down,” Smith said.
Loesch warned him, “Last year they gave us a lot of trouble.”
“I’m approaching, he’s showing me his hands right now,” Smith said. “He’s being cooperative right now," handing over an identification card. Smith read it: “I am out of here!”
"Oh, wait a second, there he goes!"
SANTA1 pulled away fast, turned off on Ind. 56, and Smith reported that his windshield wipers were smeared with a black substance.
“Yeah, I don’t know, must be something they (the reindeer) ate,” Loesch said.
Meanwhile, she asked central dispatch to contact Indiana Department of Transportation trucks clear the highway. Central Dispatch warned it might take two hours.
“This is going to take more than a scoop shovel,” Loesch reported.
Moments later, Smith reported his car was disabled after hitting a large pile of candy canes. "Looks like my vehicle will be 10-0, I’m out,” he reported.
Central dispatch alerted Knox County authorities to the hijinks on U.S. 41, and Loesch traveled back to the Gibson County Jail to assist in interrogating The Grinch.
Editor's Note: Gibson County Central Dispatch's radio tracking of Santa's antics is a favorite tradition each Christmas Eve. Police departments across the county take part in the radio "chase" for the entertainment of children and parents.