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Creative troopers nab man who stole and wrecked truck

Jul 21, 2013 - By Eric Blom Staff Writer

Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers used some creative sleuthing to connect a Rawlins man to a pickup truck stolen and wrecked in Fremont County.

Riverton Circuit Court judge Wesley Roberts has found the evidence sufficient to bind over to circuit court two felony charges against Michael Townsend, 27, of Rawlins.

He faces one count of larceny and another for wrongful taking or disposing of property.

A trial date is pending.

Tricky troopers

Highway Patrol trooper Jessie Jackson found a cell phone, tennis shoe and cap next to the wrecked blue 2000 Dodge Dakota with a Napa logo on the door in a ditch on Sand Draw Road a little before 6 a.m. on June 10.

He and trooper Burl Gies found a bloodied, shoeless Townsend across the county at the Split Rock Café later that morning.

Jackson asked Townsend to give him phone numbers of people he could call on his behalf. As the man listed numbers, Gies checked to see if they were in the cell phone recovered from the crash scene.

Every number and name Townsend gave them was in the phone, Jackson stated.

WHP Lieutenant Klief Guenther said the technique is not one the agency teaches, though it does provide training on use of technology, including cell phones, to investigate crime scenes.

"Certainly if you can find an unattended cell phone (at a crime since) and you can tie someone into it (that's a good thing)," Guenther said. "Sounds like they did a great job."

He was not familiar with the case, but Guenther said there are legal standards involved with searching cell phones, and WHP has to abide by them.

The beginning

Both ends of the story started earlier in that morning.

Townsend had shown up shoeless at the Jeffrey City home of Fremont County Sheriff's deputy J. Dee Darnell and asked to use a phone early in the morning of June 10, according to court documents. Darnell gave the man a ride to the Split Rock Café.

Halfway across the county, Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper Jessie Jackson at 5:40 a.m. responded to a one-vehicle rollover at milepost 23.75 on Sand Draw Road.

In his sworn affidavit, Jackson reported that he found a white tennis shoe, a ball cap and a cell phone near the vehicle. Darnell arrived on scene and relayed the story of the shoeless man.

Darnell returned to the Split Rock and waited with the Townsend until Jackson and trooper Burl Gies arrived.

When they did, Jackson noticed Townsend had dust and glass in his hair, a small cut on his forehead, and more blood on the back of his neck and jacket. The trooper's affidavit stated the injuries were consistent with being in the crash.

That was when the troopers performed their investigation with the phone.

Three stories

Afterward, Jackson stated he confronted Townsend about the phone numbers, and the man gave three different stories for what had happened.

He first said he had fought with his girlfriend, and she left him. Then, Townsend said he and a friend, Mark Hernandez, were in the crashed pickup and said his girlfriend had followed them. Finally, he told the troopers a male and female friend, whose names he did not know, left him at Walmart, where Hernandez picked him up in the truck.

Jackson told Townsend there was no evidence another person was in the truck when it rolled or was involved in the crash. Asked if his fingerprints would be in the truck, Townsend said they would be on the steering wheel because he tried to grab the wheel when Hernandez lost control.

Jackson said he also overhead Townsend tell a doctor his injuries came from rolling a truck.

Stolen vehicle

Through an investigation, Jack-son also learned the truck had been stolen from Napa Auto Parts in Riverton. Neil Aitken of Napa told Gies he had parked the pickup on the west side of the Napa building at 201 S. Federal Blvd. at about 4:30 a.m. on June 10. Aitken said a person called him at 5:10 a.m. to say the truck had been stolen and crashed on Sand Draw Road.

Rock Osbourne, Napa's manager in Riverton, during a June 28 interview with Jackson estimated the wrecked vehicle was worth $3,5000.

Townsend's charges carry a total maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $20,000.

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