Sunday church service disrupted by chase arrests

Published 5:00 am Monday, April 6, 2009

Nobody was nodding off during Sunday services after two men wereapprehended at Pearlhaven Baptist Church following a foot chasethat ended when one was caught inside the church building andanother in its parking lot, authorities and witnesses said.

Music Director George Linton said a little after the servicestarted, churchgoers heard sirens and commotion. When some of themgot up during the announcements to see what was causing the noise,they found Brookhaven police officers apprehending a young man inthe church foyer.

“The last thing I expected to see was the cops throwing someoneup against the wall and handcuffing them right there in thechurch,” said Linton, who is also a church deacon.

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Assistant Police Chief Nolan Jones said an officer noticed aChevrolet Malibu running some red lights at a high rate of speedand attempted to pull the car over.

The driver refused to stop and lost control of the vehicle,ending up in a ditch at the intersection of First Street and BehanRoad, Jones said. At that point, the five male juveniles inside thecar fled on foot.

“Two were located there at the church, one was inside thechurch,” Jones said. “They did get the one out of the church andhandcuffed him. The other was apprehended in the parking lot.”

Jones could not identify the suspects because they arejuveniles. He said they have been charged with resisting arrest byfleeing, disorderly conduct, and possession of a firearm, and thedriver is also charged with several traffic violations.

Three suspects are still at large.

At one point, someone indicated that one of the men might havefled into the church office. After arresting the suspects, policesearched the church building to make sure it was clear.

“One of the police told me there was a firearm involved that oneof them had,” Linton said. “I hope they didn’t have it on them inthe church.”

Jones said neither of the juveniles caught at Pearlhaven had agun on them, but that there was one in the vehicle.

Mostly, though, parishioners were just glad the situation wasover before it was really clear what was going on.

“I was glad the police were there before we knew it washappening, they were all over the place and searching the rest ofthe church,” Linton said. “We didn’t have to worry about anybodynodding off in church after that. It was an eye opener.”

Part of what was so disturbing to churchgoers was how close tothe sanctuary the chase ended, Linton said, especially after atragic incident at the First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill.There, a gunman entered a church and killed the pastor in lateMarch.

“The things that happen in the news always seem to happensomewhere else,” Linton said. “We’ve had an informal meeting withour pastor, and the state Baptist Association has someone thatcomes in that gives you ideas of what to do to protect yourself inthe church.”

Jones said his officers did a good job in catching the youngmen.

“The officer saw him when he went in there, and he went in thereand got him out of there,” he said. “The way I look at it, he didexactly what he should have done.”

Despite the disturbance, Linton said the incident did not keepthe congregation from their weekly worship in the end.

“People are tied to that church – always have been and alwayswill be,” he said. “Sure, it upset us for a few minutes, but wewere able to put our focus back where it needed to be.”