NORTHERN MERCER COUNTY —
Authorities are asking folks who live in the wooded countryside on the border of Salem and Sugar Grove townships, east of Methodist Road, to be on alert for suspicious activity.
Swarms of police spent Tuesday afternoon trudging through the mud, dodging wind-blown cold, spattering rain as they searched for two men suspected of stealing three vehicles.
According to Hempfield Township patrolman Daniel McCloskey, here’s what police believe happened:
Sometime after 6:45 p.m. Monday, a blue Dodge Durango was stolen from a South Pymatuning Township car dealer.
Police encountered the truck early Tuesday on Methodist Road in Sugar Grove , when they were responding to a call involving an attempt to steal an all-terrain vehicle from a dealership on Hadley Road, Hempfield Township.
The ATV was recovered on Methodist Road and police pursued two men who fled in the Durango.
The men eventually stopped the truck and ran out of sight.
The license plates on the vehicle ended up being "dead" -- not registered to the Durango -- and police used the vehicle identification number to determine it had been stolen Monday night from the South Py car lot, McCloskey said.
Several hours later, at 7:55 a.m. Tuesday, police received a report about another truck -- this one a GMC Sierra -- that was stolen from a residence on Kennard Road in Sugar Grove Township.
The owner of that truck had left the keys in it overnight, McCloskey said.
Police found the truck in the area and recovered personal property that fingered Aaron Michael Braden, 29, of Edinboro.
Braden has a history of stealing vehicles and avoiding police, McCloskey said.
According to online court records, Braden’s faced a litany of charges in Crawford County for offenses including resisting arrest, receiving stolen property, drug possession and numerous traffic crimes.
At about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, police were called to 110 Cherry Hill Road, where a suspicious man was reportedly asking a resident there for gasoline.
The man’s description matched Braden’s and a manhunt ensued.
The other man, whom police haven’t identified, wasn’t seen at that time.
Police searched the wooded area bounded by Methodist, Ball Hill, Kennard and Cherry Hill roads on the border of Sugar Grove and Salem townships.
They used search dogs and swept through numerous sheds, barns and outbuidings and looked in culverts and under bridges for the men, but ultimately came up empty and called off the hunt at about 3:30 p.m., when the weather worsened.
By that time, the dogs and men were both fatigued, McCloskey said.
Police filed an arrest warrant with District Judge Brian Arthur’s Greenville court for Braden, charging him with criminal conspiracy, receiving stolen property and theft by unlawful taking.
“We’re still getting paperwork in,” McCloskey said. “There’s going to be more charges coming.”
Braden was last seen wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt. He’s about 6 feet 4 inches tall and his face was “cut up” from being in the woods, McCloskey said.
About 30 police from several departments helped in the search, including from South Pymatuning and Pymatuning townships, Greenville-West Salem Township, Meadville, Thiel College, state police and the Mercer County Sheriff .
Authorities are asking people in the area to be on the lookout for suspicious activity and to keep their homes and cars locked, McCloskey said.
“The biggest thing is, people need to be aware, they have to start locking up,” McCloskey said. “Use a little more caution.”