The incident on Story Street

In the Chronicle’s police reports on Sept. 9, the incident read like this:

“A 17-year-old boy needed medical help after someone caught him stealing from vehicles.”

That someone was Eddie Steinhauer, and the police report as printed doesn’t hold a candle to Steinhauer’s account of what happened on Story Street that night.

It started just past midnight, the early morning after Labor Day. Steinhauer, 33, had been hunting with his brother all day, and he was handling some late computer work before turning in. He still wore his camouflage shirt and pants.

Then Steinhauer heard a noise outside. Someone was trying to get into his car.

Steinhauer flipped on the porch light and was rewarded with the sound of feet running off down the dark street.

In his stocking feet, Steinhauer went out to check on his car. Satisfied, he turned to go back inside, and the story might have ended there, had Steinhauer not happened to hear a curious sound out on the street.

He walked to the end of his driveway and took a look around. There was movement a few houses down the street. Was it the thief?

“I thought, well, I’ll give it a second. Maybe it’s some big dude,” Steinhauer said. “I slowly walked about four houses over, totally stealth.”

From behind some chest-high bushes, he watched the thief at work in a neighbor’s car. The only meaningful light came from the car’s dome bulb, and it made two things clear to Steinhauer.

First, this was no “big dude.” It was a 150-pound teenager. Moreover, it was a 150-pound teenager with a giant orange afro. Second, the kid was clearly drunk, evidenced by him keeling over into the bushes as he got out of the car.

“I just saw flailing around, the classic drunken stumble,” Steinhauer said.

No longer afraid, Steinhauer crept closer so that when the drunken thief got to his feet, the camo-clad Steinhauer was only inches from his face.

Steinhauer said the ensuing conversation went something like this:

Steinhauer: “Hey, man, something I can do for you?”

Kid: “No, I’m fine.”

Steinhauer: “What’s in your pockets?”

Kid, pulling from his pockets a random assortment of charger cables and iPods: “I’m really drunk.”

Until this point, Steinhauer felt like he had given the kid the benefit of the doubt. Seeing the stolen goods was the last straw.

“So I grab him by the shirt, hockey-style,” Steinhauer said. The thief jerked suddenly, and “I ripped him right out of his shirt.”

The thief dropped the goods and ran stumblingly down the street. Amused, Steinhauer jogged along beside him.

“Hey, man, this is kind of fun for me,” he remembers saying to the scared, shirtless thief.

Eventually, Steinhauer shoved the thief into a bush and knelt on him “like I was kneeling on a prize elk.” Only then did Steinhauer realize he didn’t have his phone.

When he got up to get a neighbor’s attention, the thief ran off again. Again, Steinhauer followed. Again, Steinhauer tackled. This time, he took the thief’s shoes and led him by the ear over to a neighbor’s house and had the police summoned.

Three police cars, a fire truck and an ambulance later, Steinhauer and his damp, cold feet led officers through the night’s events. (The thief had already been taken off to the hospital because of his extreme drunkenness.”

“I was smiling the whole time talking about it,” he said.

He’s still smiling a month later.

Steinhauer hasn’t had to go to court, and he never learned what happened to the young thief, other than the fact that he was a minor. A call to the responding officer looking for details wasn’t returned.

In retrospect, Steinhauer knows it wasn’t a good idea to sneak up on and confront a thief.

“When somebody violates you like that and you get a chance to catch them, you get kind of excited and thinking kind of dumb,” he said.

But, “I’d do it again,” he said. “You get very few chances to be surprised these days.”

Got one of these off-the-beaten-path, side-street stories? Send your ideas to Michael Becker at [email protected] or 406-582-2657.