The search for a criminal suspect from Indiana Wednesday night has turned into an ongoing missing person investigation for the Williams County Sheriff’s Office Thursday morning.

At 2:27 p.m. Wednesday, deputies recovered an abandoned vehicle and trailer in the eastbound lane of County Road P.50 at Ohio 49 north of Edon. The on-ground search for the driver lasted six and a half hours, until 8 p.m., and the investigation continued Thursday with the driver declared a missing person at 9:15 a.m.

“The long story short is that we’re still working it hot and heavy,” Chief Deputy Jeff Lehman said in a phone interview with The Bryan Times Thursday morning. “Property can be replaced. Our most important concern now is to locate the person and make sure he’s safe. We have a good, solid suspect but we didn’t locate him last night.”

Clear Lake, Indiana, Town Marshal Chris Emerick took the initial theft report at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.

“We got the call from a Clear Lake resident who found his sport utility vehicle and trailer with two snowmobiles missing,” Emerick said. “He said it happened overnight; last saw them at 9:30 or 10 p.m. Tuesday. Woke up Wednesday and they were gone.

“Another resident familiar with the victim actually found the SUV parked on the side of the road near State Route 49 in Hillsdale County, Michigan,” Emerick said. “She called police and continued home but a short time later (on Ohio 49 in Williams County) she recognized the trailer attached to another vehicle and called police again. At some point, the guy stopped and fled from the vehicle and that’s how the manhunt began.”

Michigan State Police received her first 911 call and recovered the SUV. The Williams County Sheriff’s Office received her other call. They recovered the second vehicle and trailer but the snowmobiles were gone. Emerick said he had a person of interest in the theft investigation but declined to release additional details.

At 2:59 p.m. Wednesday, the sheriff’s office deployed two K-9 units to track the suspect from County Road 6 at County Road P.50 while the Ohio State Highway Patrol set a perimeter around the area with additional deputies from Steuben County, Indiana, and police officers from Montpelier and Edon. The Northwest Township Fire Department contributed additional manpower while two ambulances from Williams County EMS stood by. The patrol also sent in a helicopter equipped with thermal-imaging cameras Wednesday night to scan the area. Sheriff Rodney Robinson said his deputies cleared an outbuilding during the search but found nothing.

Lehman said several local residents also assisted during the search. But he said “the unsung heroes” were the emergency dispatchers at Williams County’s 911 call center. “They coordinated the communications as we responded to the scene and did a wonderful job,” he said.

He also confirmed the suspect was last seen carrying a crowbar and advised residents south of Nettle Lake to report anyone they see trying to gain entry to a building.

“Report right away, don’t delay,” he said. “We’d rather check 10,000 false reports than let a real one slip by. With the recent trend of daylight robberies, people should be vigilant anyway.”

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