Car theft at school triggers chase, arrest

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Vicksburg Police Patrolman Bobby Jones, left, and Sgt. Adarryll Dent escort Melvin Clark to a patrol car this morning.(Melanie Duncan Thortis The Vicksburg Post)

[8/19/03]As school officials, parents and children looked on this morning, a man drove away from St. Francis Xavier Elementary School in a teacher’s vehicle, triggering a car chase by two parents and a foot chase by police before a suspect was arrested.

Police said Melvin Clark, 23, 5098 Woodwind Road, Lorman, is the man they charged with grand larceny after taking him into custody.

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Virginia Campbell, resource teacher at the Catholic school on Hayes Street at Clay, said she noticed a man loitering in the parking lot when she came to work just before 8 a.m. She said she continued to watch him from inside the school as he looked into cars.

“I saw him stoop down and get in my car,” she said of her silver Toyota Sequoia. A police spokesman said the vehicle was unlocked and the keys were inside.

St. Francis Principal Ann Wheeless said Campbell and other teachers and administrators ran outside.

“She reached the car just as he drove off,” Wheeless said. “The man drove off, going very fast. He gunned the car and turned west on Clay Street.”

“There were children and parents at the crossing, so we are very fortunate and blessed no one was injured,” she said.

Two parents dropping their children off saw what happened and followed the Sequoia while others called police.

“I was at the stop sign, and he pulled up beside me,” said Steve Kitchens, one of the men who pursued. He said he could not pull in front of the stolen vehicle because children were in the way. Stanley Lee, the other parent who followed, said the man ran red lights and hit a sign as he fled.

The chase ended at Fayette Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where the man ran from the car into a wooded area. Police arrived, and the suspect was found hiding under a fig tree.

Clark’s bond was set at $20,000, and a police spokesman said he would be transferred to the Issaquena County Jail, where the city houses most of the people police arrest.

As for students who witnessed the incident, Wheeless said she was proud of the way people associated with the school reacted.

“I’m really impressed with the way the parents, children and the crossing guard performed,” Wheeless said. “With something happening so quickly, they didn’t panic. They stayed calm.”