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Man Who Hit Suspected Thief: 'I Freaked Out'

Posted November 9, 2007
Updated November 13, 2007

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Editor's Note: WRAL.com initially ran a photo with this story that it identified as Cornelius Brown. The photo was not of Mr. Brown, and WRAL.com regrets the error.

An intruder who police say was pinned between a car and a fence Thursday afternoon by a homeowner has died, and authorities said Friday they are weighing possible criminal charges against the homeowner.

Cornelius Brown and another man were in a car trying to leave a residence near the intersection of Hawkins Road and U.S. Highway 301 between Micro and Selma when homeowner John Reid said he pulled into the driveway and tried to block their path with his pickup truck.

"I freaked out when I seen them speeding out of my driveway," Reid told a 911 dispatcher. "I don't know what they were doing here. They were speeding out of my driveway – speeding with dust flying."

Reid told the dispatcher his property had been burglarized three times in recent months and that he had about $6,000 in equipment for his lawn care business on the property.

As Brown tried to scramble out of the car and run, Reid said, he hit the gas pedal by mistake.

"My foot got stuck on the gas, and I rammed them. I hit them good," he told the dispatcher. "He got wedged in between his car and a fence post – I mean wedged bad."

During the 11-minute 911 call, Reid repeatedly asked for an ambulance to come to treat Brown, saying the suspected thief had hit his head and suffered extensive injuries.

"I don't want this character dying on my property," he said.

Reid also could be heard during the call shouting at the second suspected thief.

"Listen, buddy. I've been broken into three times," he yelled. "You shouldn't have been messing around in my yard."

Brown was airlifted to Duke University Hospital, where he died Friday morning.

Investigators found a piece of machinery belonging to Reid into the back of the suspects' car.

Mark Ray McNair, 46, of Dudley, was charged with trespassing and larceny in connection with the incident. He remained in the Johnston County Jail Friday.

Both Brown and McNair have lengthy criminal records involving thefts. Reid also was convicted of 16 counts of breaking and entering and larceny in Warren County in 1988 and 1989, according to court records.

Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell said his preliminary findings make it unlikely Reid would be charged in Brown's death, but Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle said Friday that Brown's death raises the severity of the case.

"You just really have to look at all the facts and circumstances and see whether that behavior was justified under the law or whether it actually was not and resulted in an intentional criminal act," Doyle said.

Attorney Karl Knudsen said Reid's intent is the key to the case: Did he intend to hurt Brown, or was he just trying to detain the men for deputies?

"Was it reasonable?" said Knudsen, who was cleared of wrongdoing himself after he shot and killed two robbers in his home in 1982. "All the Monday-morning quarterbacking later on isn't going to change the fact that this guy was confronted with what perceived to be a serious situation."

Doyle said prosecutors in her office are reviewing the case with sheriff's investigators and would decide next week whether to press charges against Reid.

Last year, Randle Holmes, 62, shot and wounded a would-be intruder as the teen drove away in the middle of the night. A Johnston County grand jury declined to indict Holmes in the case.


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  • harleyman27576 Nov 12, 2007

    John did nothing wrong here. The last time he chased some burglars off the law did nothing because he did not see them take anything plus when they were finally caught they were not on his property so what was he trying to do here: keep the burglars there until the sheriff's dept arrived.He had no intentions of it going any further and happening the way it did.John would never intentionally hurt anyone and that's a fact. If this does go to court I will be there during everything to support him and his family as I hope every decent homeowner will. John we love you and we are here for you no matter what!!

  • dianebearden Nov 11, 2007

    This man is INNOCENT. He should not have any charges brought against him. The property is his as well as the item that was stolen.He called 911 as soon as it happened he didn't want the man to die. He told the subjects the law was coming.

  • PCisOverated Nov 11, 2007

    That low life deserved what he got. I am sick and tired of the over sensitive, politically correct initiative in this country. People need to stand up for their rights. One of them is the sanctuary of their home. After all, this country was built on rights and responsibility! Now don't get me wrong, I am a firm believer in equality and helping others in need. I am just sick and tired of the pendulum swinging from one side to the other. We need to use more common sense and treat people with the decency they deserve. In this case, a man died. That is an unfortunate outcome. However, I'm sure if he lived, some lawyer would find a way to sue the homeowner for pain and suffering. On the other hand, there's probably a lawyer out there that'll bring a civil suit for wrongful death...

  • Rocknhorse Nov 11, 2007

    Am I glad he died? Not glad, but not sad for him either. He chose a life of crime and the consequences/risks that it would entail. Do I think this home owner was justified? Obviously I see his side of things from personal experiences, so I suppose I do.

    With this being said, there have been comments to suggest that perhaps he has a record of theft, yet he found mercy and was able to rehabillitate. Should he have shown more self-control in his reaction to the thief? I don't know. Maybe! But in that exact moment, when you see someone violating your life, you don't think about playing nice and patting them on the shoulder, you think STOP HIM!

    I did not wish the guy to die. But I feel that when you lead a life of crime, you remove any responsibility others may have for your life. You are singly responsible for your life and the consequences of your actions.

  • Rocknhorse Nov 11, 2007

    When thieves learn they can steal from you once and get away, they DO continue. It is amazing what security measure they can get around-gorilla locks on trailer, motion lights (now I realize that just helped them see better), steel cables w/padlocks... Insurance fights like a wet cat to pay when you file claim. Heaven forbid it happens twice, then they treat YOU like a crook.

    Equip. can be very costly and having it taken can really hit not just your budget, but your heart as you sit looking at your family and wonder do you give up your dream or fight this hit and keep trying to move forward (w/all the sacrifices of starting over). You ask, what would have happened if I'd seen the theif in the process of taking what was rightfully yours? As a small bus. owner, you see it not as steeling equip, but as bad as steeling food from your kids/family-which it really is.

    I'm sorry if I sound callous, but I have no use for a thief.


  • dancerbyrd Nov 10, 2007

    If he hadnt had stopped those guys they could have come back and stolen more or if his family been home could have harmed them so at least he wont be coming back anytime soon -- and this morning the paper noted that the man who died wife stated it was cold blood murder -- well maybe if her husband wasnt a criminal and was stealing stuff and had a job to support them instead of stealing other people who work hard for there things he wouldnt have died. John deffiantly doesnt deserve to have charges put on him. That guy was on HIS land and tried to get away. What was he supposed to do let them go? That would just be stupid. Everyone is so sympathetic for the guy who died, but he might still be living if he hadnt had stole something. How about we consider what John went through -- YOU never know what you would do faced in that situation and lets all pray for Johns and his family!

  • lizard Nov 10, 2007

    Phlootang - I did say that but from a antagonist point of view. Let's get consistent here , I say. Private property rights should be held higher that SOME human life. We've been down the road of all human life being more important and it is NOT working for the culture/nation. The "cure" some propose of rehabilitation is becoming worse than the "disease" and we're not winning against the disease.

    We do need the legislation because if you don't have it written in black and white the lawyers and judges will turn it into something different down the road. Or invent a right to life for evildoers where none existed before. Life can be taken from a person through due process. Let's have these circumstances like this equate to due process. Sort of like the Rocky Mount case also.

  • heartless777 Nov 10, 2007

    Hold your head up, John--"They" were on your property, "They"
    were up to NO good--IF he had stayed in his car until JCSD arrived, he'd still be alive AND if he'd been at a JOB at 1330 in the afternoon, working and making an HONEST living this would never have happened in the first place. Only one to blame
    for this unfortunate event is Himself.

  • Phlootang Nov 10, 2007

    Aren’t you the one who said, “I don’t think the homeowner ought to be able to get away with using deadly force against a thief”? Aren’t you the one that said, “It doesn’t sound like he was defending himself just his property and one can’t use deadly force to do that”?

    If, as you had earlier said, Mr. Reid was wrong then don’t you think there should be some consequence? You claim to be in law enforcement, but you have no appreciation for the rule of law?

    By the way, you do not need to ‘legislate’ a settle legal concept such as the Castle Doctrine. Regardless, the Castle Doctrine does not apply to a man in his car.

  • lizard Nov 10, 2007

    phlootang - i for one am tired of "paying the bill" and seeing others pay,,,waiting for someone to become "redeemed." If they do good. But it is up to them to survive, not my responsibility nor desire to make sure they do. I don't have time for that.