A thief literally on his way out the door, caught in the act with a truckload of stolen items from a Pauls Valley area church, is now facing a couple of felony charges.
Catching Sterling Morris, 34, of Nichols Hills in the Oklahoma City area was far more difficult as he led a Garvin County sheriff’s deputy on a high-speed pursuit before crashing his vehicle and leading law enforcement officers on a manhunt search through some woods last week.
After Morris was corralled he was given a second-degree burglary charge for attempting to steal around $10,000 worth of musical equipment, electronics and computers from the Beaty Baptist Church southwest of Pauls Valley.
He was also handed an eluding charge after taking Deputy Jeff Huffman on a chase reaching speeds of at least 100 mph.
Sheriff Jim Mullett said it was just before 7 a.m. Jan. 27 when an employee walked into the church and saw immediately that something was wrong.
That employee then made the call reporting a burglary was still in progress as it was Huffman who was first at the scene.
“My deputy met the guy at the church,” Mullett said. “He was loading up music equipment in the back of a truck.
“He jumps in the truck and drives away east toward Interstate 35. Speeds during the pursuit were over 100 miles per hour down Airline (Road).”
Also responding to the call was Pauls Valley’s police chief, Mitch McGill, who tried to cut off the fleeing suspect at the I-35 exchange.
“The suspect cut across a field to get to I-35. Then he ran right into a cable barrier in the median. He got out and fled on foot,” McGill said.
After Morris ran across the northbound lanes of the interstate he took off into a wooded area on the south side of PV.
That’s when the sheriff’s office and local police department joined forces to conduct a “grid search” on foot.
“After about two hours or so of searching we located him at a pond hiding in a bush basically,” Mullett said.
Another twist is the sheriff believes Morris may be responsible for other church burglaries in a couple of nearby counties.
“A Purcell church was cleaned out,” Mullett said, adding that happened a couple of weeks ago. “We believe this guy is tied to that church burglary.
“We also believe he could be tied to a break-in at a church in Cleveland County.”
The day after the theft attempt the church’s pastor, Gerald Biswell, was among those coming to pick up all the items nearly stolen by Morris.
“Our secretary walked in and saw that something was wrong,” Biswell said. “She didn’t have time to get out, but she made the call to report it to authorities.”
A report shows the employee arrived to find her office light was on and door between her office and the pastor’s office was open.
She then heard a vehicle with a loud exhaust fire up its engine outside. After the vehicle drove away the employee noticed several items placed near the door where the truck had left seconds earlier.
“What was amazing is he also took some odd things. He took a notebook out of my desk. He took a pen. You wouldn’t expect little things like that to be taken,” the pastor said.
Mullett was quick to give plenty of credit for the different agencies working together as county deputies and PV police officers walked the woods searching for the suspect, while PV firefighters helped out with traffic control.
“I want to thank the Pauls Valley police and fire departments for their help. If not for them and us working together it would have made all of this a lot more difficult.”