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WILLIAMSON COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - A 22-year-old Herrin man is behind bars after police say he stole a fire truck, then crashed it along Crenshaw Road.
Kurtlewis Abels, 22, is charged with driving while license suspended (misdemeanor), driving under the influence of alcohol and /or drugs (misdemeanor), and theft of state supported property over $100,000 in value (class X felony).
The truck was stolen from the Williamson County Fire Protection District's Johnston City station (Station #5).
It was shortly before noon on Tuesday when a Williamson County deputy who happened to be on patrol watched the fire truck skid off of Crenshaw Road. The fire truck came to rest upside down at the bottom of an embankment.
The deputy assisted Abels in exiting the wrecked truck, determined that Abels was not a member of the Williamson County Fire Protection District, and took Abels into custody.
"Our initial thoughts was oh my god one of our guys have been involved in an accident," said Fire Chief Jeremy Norris at the Williamson County Fire Protection District. "And we worried is somebody hurt, or have they hurt somebody. Then we get there and find out that it wasn't one of our people. That somebody had stole it from us."
The driver was taken to Heartland Regional Medical Center for treatment of his injuries. Then he was arrested and taken to the Williamson County Jail.
"It makes us a whole lot angry," said Chief Norris. "It went from the anxiety of the fear of somebody being injured, to somebody stole our truck."
Police believe that the thief shoved an air-conditioning unit out of the window at Station #5 for the Williamson County Fire Protection District on the Johnston City Blacktop on Tuesday morning.
But, the joy ride ended in a very costly way for the department.
"It's more then a quarter-of-a-million dollar loss," said Chief Norris. "This was a 2011 model. And now we're going to have to go to a reserve unit that's a 1987. So we're going to take a big step backwards until we can get this one replaced."
The chief says that could take them anywhere from three months to a year to replace the smashed up fire truck.
"This is my 20th year here in southern Illinois, and I've never heard of a fire truck being stolen in this area."
Abels was taken to the Williamson County Jail on $1,500 cash bond.