GOSHEN — Jason Sharp didn’t wake up Tuesday morning expecting to become a vigilante, but he became one after his Jeep was stolen and social media helped him track down the alleged perpetrator – eventually even drawing his weapon to face down the suspect.
According to police, an explosion occurred about 7:40 a.m. before a detached garage caught on fire at 1107 Baker Ave., about a block from West Goshen Elementary School.
Sharp said he was so distracted as he watched the fire that he didn’t notice his beloved 1995 Jeep Renegade had been stolen from his driveway on Indiana Avenue.
“I had just walked into the house after starting the Jeep and I told my kids, ‘Let’s go, kids, put your shoes on because you’re going to be late if we don’t leave now,’” he recalled. “We were actually running behind a few minutes – luckily, really, because the kids could have been in the car at that time.”
Standing in the area where the Jeep should have been, staring at the fire, his 12-year-old son was the first to notice the Jeep missing from their home in the 300 block of South Indiana Avenue.
Sharp said he knew immediately that the fire was connected to his missing Jeep somehow, and he reported the theft to police. After he and his girlfriend dropped the kids off at school, and he made his way to work, Sharp posted to social media, hoping someone would see his Jeep.
“I don’t need this Jeep to be happy,” Sharp said in the post. “The thing is, if you know me at all, you know this Jeep in particular is so special to my family and I. We built it. There isn’t a single bolt on it that we haven’t turned. They have helped do so much on it, including rebuilding and swapping the engine.”
In a matter of six hours, the social media community would rally to help find the man’s missing vehicle and ultimately stop a crime spree in the area.
“I didn’t have any intention of any vigilante justice,” he said. “I just wanted to stop the guy and get my Jeep back. I wouldn’t have even been looking if I hadn’t been getting all these reports that it was still here. Who knows how many people were actually watching for it? So many people spotted him or knew someone who’d spotted him. I was way too curious to stick around and not try to get our Jeep back.”
Sharp would later learn that police had been tracking a suspect’s cellphone early in the morning but they had no idea what kind of vehicle he was driving; a car destroyed in a carport adjacent to the garage that burned also was stolen, police said.
Goshen police and fire crews were called to the fire and then responded to Sharp’s call about a stolen Jeep several minutes later.
“Supposedly he got spooked from continuously seeing police officers as he was driving, so he ditched and burn the car because he thought it had a tracker in it,” Sharp said.
Joshua Craigo, 20, of Elkhart, was later arrested and charged on multiple counts. Police said they believe Craigo stole another vehicle from the Concord area, ditched it under the carport on Baker Avenue and set the garage ablaze before taking Sharp’s custom-built Jeep.
‘Very intense situation’
Soon after Sharp made his post, a commenter responded, “Please message me. I saw your Jeep this morning. I reported it to police.”
What happened from there was a social media hunt to find Sharp’s missing Jeep. Friends and strangers continued calling and commenting, citing Jeeps they’d seen in the city recently, and Sharp followed the leads himself.
“One of my neighbor’s had spotted my Jeep and followed it,” he said. The neighbor indicated she’d intended to report it as the driver was driving erratically, with no headlights, and rifling through things. “She’d taken down the plate number because of the way they were driving. It had to have been right after he’d taken it.”
One commenter even offered a description of the individual driving it. The calls and messages kept coming in,and Sharp followed them.
“Somebody posted that they’d chased him from College Avenue area and lost him at Jackson and Main,” he said.
He wondered how the vehicle made it so far with so many police officers in search of it,then realized the thief must be traveling through the woods.
After a parks department employee confirmed that the vehicle was at Shanklin Park, Sharp again raced to the last known location of his Jeep.
“I’ll be darned; when I pulled into that driveway, as the driveway straightened out, over the hill by Schrock Pavilion, I could see the top of my Jeep coming in that direction.”
He blocked the exit with his nephew’s car he’d been driving and began to approach the vehicle
“He got like 25 to 30 feet from where I was, and that’s when I drew my weapon and told him to stop,” Sharp said, but the man didn’t. “I would not even have drawn my weapon if I didn’t think he was going to ram me. It wasn’t scary, but it was a very intense situation.
“I’ve been around firearms and guns and hunting my entire life. I’ve always been taught that you do not point a weapon at anything that you don’t intend to shoot, or at a person if it’s not to protect your life. You don’t think that sinks in as deeply as it does, but it’s ingrained in you.”
The Jeep spun away, jumped a curb and was gone again. Disheartened, Sharp was headed back toward his loaned vehicle when an officer happened to pull into the park, then another.
“Before I knew it, there were like 10 officers roaming around,” Sharp said.
After what felt like wasted effort, Sharp started his short journey home, but then he saw a man in a black hoodie coming up the riverbank. He was certain it was the same man.
“I could see the Jeep off in the distance in the marshland near Interra,” he said, teaming up with a cousin of the homeowner who experienced the fire.
Within the hour, the Jeep was recovered.
The Jeep was trashed, the wiring was ripped apart, there were lighters and gloves throughout, and the Jeep was stuck in the mud. Officers told Sharp if he could get the vehicle out, he could take it home.
“He didn’t know how to use the four-wheel-drive system,” Sharp said. “I put it in four-wheel drive and got it out pretty easily. If he’d known how to use it, he probably wouldn’t have gotten stuck where he did.”
“I don’t know what kind of a spree he had, but he definitely had some fun because he beat the tar out of that thing.”
Craigo was found along the riverbank near Linway Cinema, police said, in the area Sharp believed he’d seen the suspect.
“I was so proud and overcome with unbelievably warm emotions about how our community stepped up to the plate right off the bat,” Sharp said. “Everybody was willing to help and keep their eyes out for the guy. I felt really good (about) how everybody banded together to do what they had to do to find this guy. Everybody was really excited that I’d gotten my Jeep back also.”
Over 90 comments and 360 shares helped Sharp to track down his vehicle and the man accused of stealing it. Sharp said he was pleased he had his Jeep back before his children his got home from school.
“I didn’t get any work done Tuesday but I also had bigger fish to fry,” he said.
Craigo was arrested on initial charges of burglary to a business, vehicle theft and resisting law enforcement. Bond was set at $25,000.
In court documents, law enforcement officials said they learned Craigo broke into Legendary Ink and stole cash, telling officers he had no intentions of stealing a vehicle but found a Chevrolet Traverse running and unlocked on Chase Trail as he wandered the area following the theft.
Craigo also allegedly told police he did not intentionally start the fire, suggesting that a cigarette he’d been smoking may have been responsible for the fire, although a propane torch was found in the vehicle. Craigo claimed the torch had been used to smoke methamphetamine but not to set fire to the vehicle.