It surely was an ominous sight when the driver looked in the rearview mirror of the pick-up truck he had allegedly stolen from a Charleston firefighter and saw a fire department ladder truck chasing him with its lights flashing and sirens wailing .
That scene was the climax of a chain of events that began shortly after 2 a.m. Wednesday when Charleston Fire Department Lt. Dan Anderson left Firehouse No. 2 on the West Side to grab something from his 1993 blue Ford F-150 and realized it was missing.
He feared the truck might never be recovered, but about nine hours later a fellow firefighter, Lt. Calvin Pierson, spotted it while driving a ladder truck to a false alarm on East Washington St. Other firefighters also recognized the truck as it sped beside them along Lee Street shortly before noon.
Pierson said the truck blew through a red light at the intersection of Clendenin and Lee streets as the pick-up driver led firefighters on a short chase until he finally ditched the stolen vehicle in a parking lot near Donnally Street.
The massive ladder truck had maneuvered through tight corners and followed the pick-up until it pulled into the lot. Pierson parked the ladder truck at the lot's entrance to block any chance of escape.
The driver fled the truck on foot, and the firefighters chased him. Two Charleston police officers actually caught him and brought him back to the firefighters to be identified.
John Fenner, 30, of Jonesborough, Tenn., was charged with possession of a stolen vehicle and two counts of obstructing justice, police said. He was also wanted on auto theft charges in Tennessee.
Did Pierson ever figure his bulky, bright red ladder truck would be used in a police pursuit?.
"Absolutely not. But we run alarms all the time," Pierson said. "Driving the truck with lights on wasn't a big deal.".
It was very interesting, however, for his colleagues back at the firehouse who heard, "We're in pursuit of a firefighter's stolen vehicle," while listening to the police scanner. Assistant Fire Chief Rodney Winters couldn't believe what he was hearing..
"This was absolutely hilarious," he said. "We thought, ‘Did they just spot the truck?' No! They were actually in pursuit."
No one was more relieved than Anderson, owner of the pick-up.
"I kind of got caught up in the moment," Anderson said. "I just can't believe this. Wow."
Besides an empty gas tank, a missing drill and some newfound problems with his truck due to rough driving, the vehicle came out of the ordeal surprisingly well, Anderson said.
"He had a good time with it," he said.
Anderson said he had met Fenner while performing a kind act at a local auto parts store Monday evening. Another person was having trouble getting lug nuts off a car, so Anderson offered to drive to his home to get a specialized tool.
That's when he ran into Fenner, who told him he had just walked several miles from his broken-down car and needed a ride to a nearby drug store to meet a friend.
"If you can get me there, he can fix my car," Fenner told him. Anderson obliged but told him he needed to head home for the tool.
He admittedly made the foolish decision of leaving Fenner in his truck while rummaging around his house for the special tool. Anderson said he leaves an extra key hidden in his cab and assumed Fenner somehow found it.
"That probably wasn't very smart," Anderson said. "I think he got a hold of that."
The veteran firefighter didn't think much of the encounter until about 2:10 a.m. Wednesday when he left the station in the middle of his shift to find something in his truck.
When it wasn't in the firehouse parking lot, Anderson figured his 26-year-old son had played a trick on him. The two had swapped several practical jokes over the past few weeks.
"I went looking around the lot to see if he moved it around and then called him," Anderson said, "but nope."
With a mob of angry firefighters on his tailgate, the joke was ultimately on Fenner. He is currently being held at South Central Regional Jail with bond set at $10,500.