Local News

Man Who Hit Suspected Thief: 'I Freaked Out'

Authorities are weighing possible criminal charges against a man who pinned a suspected thief against a fence after ramming his car. The suspected thief died Friday morning.

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SELMA, N.C.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.