Last week, outside a (very) small town in rural northern Illinois, sophisticated game cameras caught a pair of alleged burglars snooping around a farmhouse. Two card-carrying good guys went to investigate, and eventually held a cagey duo at gunpoint for police. Kyle Smith and Dakota Luttrell were arrested.
Two men were arrested after a call came in around 7 PM Tuesday for an alleged burglary in progress on a farm in rural Earlville. The LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office say they were called to the 900 block of North 47th Road in Meriden Township and arrested 29-year-old Kyle Smith and 26-year-old Dakota Luttrell, both of Henry. They were taken by deputies to the LaSalle County Jail with bond yet to be set.
Two of my past concealed carry class students caught these individuals and their experience provides plenty of lessons for all of us.
At about 5:40pm, Nate (name changed for privacy) received an alert on his phone from his game camera placed at the rural farmhouse occupied part-time by an elderly family friend. Nate placed those cameras about six months ago after a series of burglaries and robberies of farms in the area.
Nate was at his son’s soccer game about a solid twenty minutes from the farmhouse. Initially he didn’t worry about the alert. He figured it was just someone turning around, or maybe kids pulling into the driveway to make out.
About ten minutes later, he received another alert from a second camera and that showed the two men had moved their car behind the residence to conceal it and the pair were out, prowling around looking in the windows.
Nate called his 70-year-old father who was just 10 miles away and asked dear old dad to check it out.
“He was a lot closer, but as soon as I hung up, I realized I made a mistake,” Nate said. His intuition told him those men were up to no good and he worried that his dad – past his prime brawling days – might get hurt. So he told friends to take his son home after the game and hopped in his truck and sped towards the rural farmstead.
Making (ahem) very good time, he arrived at about the same time as his dad.
He explained to me that while he didn’t have his carry piece with him, he had a pair of shotguns from time spent shooting raccoons earlier in the day. One was his social shotgun with six rounds of buckshot. He also had a pump bird gun that belonged to his grandfather.
They saw the front door broken out in the house, as well as a broken shed window, and knew they knew they had a burglary in progress. With the suspect vehicle still there, he gave his father the bird gun, then dad called 911 from near his truck. Meanwhile, Nate walked back to his truck and waited there.
At first Nate and his dad didn’t see anyone, but they heard movement inside the house. Nate said he shouted at the burglars: “Come out with your hands up, boys. We know you’re in there. We’re armed out here and the cops are on the way.”
He emphasized his point with the universal sound of peace as he chambered a round in his pump shotgun.
“Things got really quiet inside the house,” he recalled.
Nate repeated his call for them to emerge, unarmed, with their hands up. Finally, about five minutes later – which seemed like an eternity – the first guy came out. He acted cagey with his hands, so Nate put him at gunpoint with the shotgun and warned him to behave. Not surprisingly, the suspect played dumb about his partner, but Nate told him that he saw both on the camera.
Now laying face-down in the grass, the busted burglar eventually told his buddy “Kyle” to come on out.
It took “Kyle” about three more (long) minutes before he emerged. Both men assumed the face-down position in the grass to wait for the cops.
Of course, the two burglars tried to talk their way out of it. However, just a couple of minutes later, the small-town cop from nearby Earlville showed up, not quite twenty minutes from the initial call to 911.
Working by himself, the lawman emerged from the squad with his gun drawn, and asked Nate and his dad to put their guns down. The cop asked them to keep their guns handy in case the burglars got frisky with him.
Fortunately, Kyle and Dakota didn’t resist being cuffed. Other units rolled up from the LaSalle County Sheriff’s Department a few minutes later. Deputies asked Nate and his dad to put their guns in their respective trucks.
After about three hours of investigation and questions, including time spent searching the house and sheds for any other burglars as well as looking around to assess the damage and missing items, the cops left with the perps. The burglars’ car was towed away on a flat-bed.
During the investigation, police found not only some drugs in the suspect’s car (go figure) but also items from at least two, maybe three additional burglaries committed earlier in the afternoon. Neither was armed.
They didn’t have much, either. Among their haul was a well-worn forty-year-old electric weed eater stolen from the basement of the farmhouse. Maybe they thought Antiques Roadshow was coming through town.
Looking back, Nate and his dad acknowledge plenty of things they could have done better. However, it was their first experience with a suspected burglary.
First and foremost, the dad didn’t have a gun. He grabbed a baseball bat on his way out of the house to investigate. In hindsight, he admits he doesn’t know “what the hell I was gonna do with a baseball bat.” He has his Illinois carry license, but until now, didn’t carry regularly or keep a gun in the car. That’s now been remedied. Especially after his wife “counseled” him later in the evening.
The father-son duo now fully realize the jeopardy they placed themselves in by showing up before police to a property crime. And then by calling out a challenge to the burglars. “If I had it to do over again, I’d just call the Sheriff and wait for them to respond.” Nate said. “We had those guys on recordings. We really didn’t need to be anywhere near them.”
Amen, brother. Preach it.
Better yet, Nate should have called the sheriff’s office the moment he saw the men outside the car, prowling the property on the camera.
Both of the good guys said they were very happy with the legal training they received in class. “We were very calm and knew that we couldn’t just shoot them,” Nate said. “At the same time, if they had reached for a gun or took a shot at us, I would have shot them.”
Nate admits to partially using his truck as cover (good) but admits that he came out to within 10 feet of the guy on the ground while the second guy was still inside and unseen (very unwise).
Another whoopsie: Nate didn’t have his carry gun either, as he said he didn’t want to deal with moving it from the truck to the combine and back during harvest.
“So wear it on your damn hip,” I told him.
“Yeah, it’s there right now. I suspect I’ll be carrying it there a whole lot more now.”
Wise choice, sir. I think that like his father, his wife had something to do with that decision.
Fortunately, no one got hurt. The cops praised both men for catching the burglars in the act (a rarity) and for exercising restraint. At the same time, the investigator told them to call police a whole lot sooner next time.
The next morning, father and son worked to board up the broken windows and clean up the mess. Unfortunately, the damage was more than just to property. The burglars also destroyed the homeowners’ peace of mind. The single woman in her mid-70s is now terrified at the prospect of spending another night in the home alone. That’s pretty common among burglary victims.
Fortunately this instance worked out well for the good guys. However, it could have gone very poorly for them. And for what? A beat up, 40-year-old electric weed eater?
If you find yourself in a similar circumstance, call police right away and wait a good distance away. Distance is your friend. Distance equals time, and time gives you options and options mean safety. And communicate with the dispatcher. The last thing you want is to surprise responding police with a gun in your hand. Otherwise bad things can happen.
To minimize the risk of prosecution, don’t deploy deadly force to protect property. In this case, Nate and his dad didn’t start pointing guns until the suspects failed to follow commands to show their hands. But at least they had guns.