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More MS news articles for July 2003

Missing van causes big problems for local woman

Man runs off with disabled local woman's van

Wed, July 30, 2003
By Don Moore
Port Charlotte

Nancy Thibeault feels betrayed, used and abused. Some guy who walked into her life last Friday drove off with her van Monday morning and she hasn't seen either in the last 24 hours, she said Tuesday.

Thibeault, a 55-year-old physically disabled Port Charlotte woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis, was unhappily trying to figure out what to do about her predicament when she contacted the Sun. She had initially been told by Charlotte and Lee County sheriffs' deputies there was nothing they could do about her missing van because she allowed her "friend" to borrow it and gave him her keys.

Contacted Tuesday, Charlotte County Sheriff William E. Clement had a different view of Thibeault's problem: "At the very least, it sounds to me like the unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and, more than likely, grand theft auto," he said. The sheriff said he would have to have his investigators check it out further.

Because the incident took place in Fort Myers, Clement added that his office would be working with Lee County officials to try to get the woman's van back for her.

Authorities are now looking for Isaac Pettis, believed to be 28-35 years old and 6 feet tall with dirty blond hair past his shoulders. He is reportedly from Minnesota. Authorities hope to catch him driving Thibeault's 1993 maroon and imitation wood-paneled Dodge Caravan. Thibeault said the imitation wood finish is peeling off on the sliding door on the driver's side and there is a small dent in the door's wood finish, too.

Thibeault first met Pettis about six months ago when a friend of hers brought him over to her home. At that time, he told her he was an out-of-work auto mechanic from Minnesota hoping to relocate to Southwest Florida. He explained he would be returning north to settle his accounts and then come back down in a few months.

Thibeault said Pettis appeared at her front door Friday morning asking for her assistance. He told her he needed a place to stay for a while, but that he had a job lined up at an auto repair shop in North Fort Myers. She agreed to let him stay at her place for the time being in exchange for helping with yard and housework. He moved in over the weekend.

By Monday morning, Pettis had talked Thibeault into driving him down to a Fort Myers blood bank so he could sell his blood platelets for $35. They arrived at the blood center about 9:30 a.m. He had to take a number and get in line. It was going to be several hours at best before he could give blood and get paid.

"I told him he could take me over to Sam's Club and I could do some shopping while he waited to give blood," she said. "About 11 a.m., he returned to Sam's. He told me that I had forgotten my cell phone in the van and had no way to get in touch with me without it. Pettis added that he was number 36 in line and they were only up to 16 so he would be a couple more hours. He also left me the blood bank's phone number.

"He asked me for some lunch money and a little extra so he could get some copies he needed," Thibeault said. "I gave him $13 since I was going to pay him for helping me out with the yard over the weekend anyway."

When Pettis didn't return in a couple of hours, she called the blood bank on her cell phone from Sam's while sitting in her wheelchair and waiting. She was told by whomever answered the phone they couldn't discuss who was giving blood with a third party -- it was against the law.

Several hours later she was still at Sam's and still waiting for Pettis to return. When he didn't come back she made another call to the blood bank and this time she got the manager. Thibeault explained to her that she was a disabled woman sitting in a wheelchair at Sam's, waiting for Pettis to return with her van, and she needed help. Again she was told by the manager she couldn't provide information to a third party.

"Can you tell me whether I should be concerned or not concerned that he hasn't shown up back here at Sam's for me?" she inquired of the manager. " 'I don't have him on the list of people who has been here today,' " the manager replied.

Thibeault thanked the woman and called the Lee County Sheriff's Office. They dispatched a deputy to Sam's to talk with her.

"The woman deputy told me I was out of luck because I had given him my keys, so he can't be charged with auto theft. She told me he can bring my car back in two hours, two days, two years or never and there is nothing I can do about it," she said.

Thibeault had to call her son, who lives in Sarasota County, to come get her at Sam's Club in Fort Myers Monday afternoon. By Tuesday morning there was still no sign of Pettis or her van. She called her car insurance company and was advised to contact the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office and get their opinion about her problem and what she might do.

Like Lee County, they dispatched a deputy, who came to her home. The Charlotte deputy took her name and phone number and left after talking with her for a couple of minutes and explaining he could do nothing either.

Thibeault's sister suggested she contact a newspaper.

Thibeault said in addition to the van and the $13 she had given Pettis, there was also a wallet in a compartment in the vehicle with $50 in $2 bills in it and $10 worth of quarters in the ashtray along with another $10 bill.

As of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, deputies in both counties are looking for Pettis and the missing van.

"Isaac and I had been talking about the Bible over the weekend," Thibeault said. "He went to church with me on Sunday. He could quote the Bible better than I could. I thought he was a very proper man."

Anyone having information is urged to call the CCSO Tips Line at (941) 637-TIPS (8477) or Crimestoppers at (800) 780-TIPS (8477).

Copyright © 2003, Sun Coast Media Group Inc.