McCOOK, Nebraska -- Court procedures are nearly complete for the last of four burglars that pillaged a rural farmhouse southwest of Indianola in June. The group was arrested after a farmer working a wheat field noticed a van leaving an unoccupied farmhouse that he owned and used primarily as storage for personal items. The farmer ended up pursuing the group for some time, actually getting their vehicle to momentarily stop on two different occasions and witnessing them throw items out of the van as they attempted to get away.
The farmer was able to tail them until a Red Willow County Sheriff's deputy could intervene and subsequently arrest the three men and one woman, identified as 27-year-old Thomas Ortiz, 33-year-old Dustin W. Banzhaf, 28-year-old Elliott B. Ferneau and 29-year-old Rebecca L. Woody.
In addition to recovering items stolen from the farmhouse and identifying eight locations along the van's route where items were thrown from the vehicle during the chase, arresting officers found a marijuana pipe, a medicine bottle containing marijuana and two other pipes with methamphetamine residue on them in the van's glovebox.
The group gave conflicting stories to investigators following their arrest on County Road 716. Banzhaf said the door to the farmhouse and gate were wide open when the group approached and said he went into the house and saw Woody go upstairs in the home. He also claimed he and Ferneau had instructed Woody to stop the van several times while being pursued by the farmer's pickup, but she was panicked and continued to run. Banzhaf also claimed he was instruced by Woody and Ortiz to throw items from the van during the pursuit.
Woody said she only stopped at the farmhouse, which the farmer said was secure from all four sides with a barb-wire fence, because she believed the others needed to use the restroom. Woody said she and Ferneau stayed in the van and never entered the house. She also said she wanted to stop while being pursued by the farmer's pickup but the others wouldn't let her and kept telling her to go.
Woody, of No. 9 Parkview in McCook, was as identified as the driver. She was assigned a public defender in June and pleaded guilty to charges of second degree criminal trespass and a Class I misdemeanor of theft by unlawful taking less than $500. She was sentenced to 12 months probation in county court.
Banzhaf, of 1404 West 10th, McCook, and Ferneau of 11o9 E. Third St., McCook, were identified as the two passengers in the back of the van.
Banzhaf was sentenced to 18 months probation, Aug. 9, 2012, in Red Willow County Court for his role in the crime. Banzhaf also received 30 days jail time, with credit for three days already served, however the jail sentence was suspended until February 2013 and could be waived by the court at the recommendation of his probation officer.
Banzhaf was convicted of a Class I misdemeanor of theft by unlawful taking less than $500 and second degree criminal trespass.
Ferneau was sentenced to 12 months probation, Aug. 9, 2012, in Red Willow County Court for his role. Ferneau was assigned a public defender in June and originally pleaded not guilty to both charges against him in July, before changing his plea to no contest in August.
Ferneau was convicted of the same offenses, a Class I misdemeanor of theft by unlawful taking less than $500 and a second degree criminal trespass charge.
Red Willow County Attorney Paul Wood did not pursue additional charges of eight counts of littering and tampering with evidence, that Banzhaf and Ferneau were originally arrested on.
Ortiz was identified as being in the front passenger seat of the van during the chase and remains the only offender yet to be sentenced. Ortiz accepted a plea agreement, Sept. 5, 2012, in Red Willow County District Court that admitted guilt to felony possession of methamphetamine. Ortiz was the only offender facing a felony charge stemming from the incident.
Ortiz was originally charged with a Class IV felony for possession of methamphetamine, a Class I misdemeanor of theft by unlawful taking, a Class III misdemeanor of criminal trespass and infractions for possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.
The plea agreement, offered by Red Willow County Attorney Paul Wood, dismissed all charges against Ortiz except for the felony offense of possession of methamphetamine.
Ortiz is scheduled for sentencing on the lone charge at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 5, 2012, in Red Willow County District Court.