Cuffed woman steals cruiser

Free Press, July 4 – An embarrassed Chatham-Kent police officer watched as a woman he’d arrested and cuffed only moments earlier drove off with his cruiser.

The Houdini-like escape — which involved a chase and a crash into a river — began about noon Sunday when a rookie officer arrested a woman he found slumped over in a car parked in the middle of Base Line Road in Wallaceburg, Staff Sgt. Don Vitek said yesterday.

The woman was placed in the back of the police car, her hands cuffed behind her, after the officer found her with a bottle of alcohol, Vitek said.

As the officer spoke to witnesses, the woman slipped her hands over her feet in front of her. She squeezed through the partition — about 30 centimetres by 30 centimetres (one foot square) — that separates the cruiser’s front and back seats.

"She was a very small-statured person," Vitek said.

The woman took off in the cruiser, its rooftop lights still flashing, in front of the investigating officer and a second who arrived at the scene.

"You can imagine what they were saying to each other. Nobody could believe it," Vitek said.

The woman drove about seven kilometres before crashing the police car into the Snye River, near Bluewater Line, during a chase.

"We were pursuing our own cruiser at that point," he said.

The officer whose car was stolen rescued the woman, still handcuffed, from the middle of the river after she tried to swim away.

"She wasn’t going to make it across," Vitek said.

No one was hurt, he said.

The rookie officer, a two-year member of the force, was "embarrassed" someone had stolen his cruiser, Vitek said.

About $6,000 in damage was done to the police car.

While prisoners have escaped from the back of cruisers before, no one had ever made off with one in Chatham-Kent, Vitek said.

A 22-year-old Walpole Island woman faces charges of impaired driving, failing to provide a breath sample, escaping custody, theft, possessing stolen property, dangerous driving and obstructing justice by providing an improper name, police said.