Business owner spots his own stolen van, gives chase and calls police

LINCOLN COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Clay Heafner had planned to relax and just go fishing on Tuesday.

"It turned into a wild day," he said on Wednesday.

His restaurant, Homeplace Restaurant and Catering on Highway 27 west of Lincolnton, was broken into very early in the morning. When workers arrived for the breakfast shift and came in through a back door before dawn, they noticed a man asleep in a chair.

Gracie Arrengando yelled out, "What are you doing here?"

The man woke up but did not run. He told the workers he was waiting for someone. They just thought he was supposed to be there to do some maintenance work.

They were wrong.

The man grabbed candy, a jar with donations to a local band, the keys to the catering van, and walked out the door. Moments later, they saw the van drive away. It was then that they noticed the front door had been broken and someone had tried to pry open the registers.

Authorities came and took reports and captured images from the surveillance video. They were confident someone would spot the stolen van since logos for the restaurant were on all sides of it.

Several hours later it was spotted in Burke County - by the man who owns it.

Heafner and his uncle were traveling up highway 181 and saw the van going towards Morganton.

"I saw the logos and knew it was my van," said Heafner.

At first he thought about trying to stop it, but instead followed from a distance, kept it in sight, and called 911.

As they entered the city, patrol cars showed up and stopped the van.

"Morganton's finest took care of it real quick," Heafner said.

Matthew Straughn was taken into custody and now faces several charges including breaking and entering and larceny of a vehicle.

Heafner says he is still stunned that he was the one who spotted the stolen vehicle. He's just glad no one was hurt, and that he has his van back.

"I guess watching 'Walker, Texas Ranger' a lot as a kid taught me what to do," he laughed.

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