LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – A suspect accused of stealing a van managed to get to a nearby airport and hop on the wing of a plane preparing to take off, before being captured.
According to police, the victim, Allen Stokes, Jr. of Orlando was working along Harden Boulevard as a surveyor for National Data and Surveying Services. Stokes had stepped out of his 2008 Dodge van and was removing tools from the rear of the van. He observed the suspect, Gregory A. Hoch, 37 years old, riding by on a bicycle. The next thing the victim knew, Hoch was in the driver’s seat driving off in the van.
Greg Mulvihill was sitting at a red light when he saw Hoch jump in the van and take off.
“A guy on a bicycle literally threw his bicycle down jumped into the van and took off,” Mulvihill told News Channel 8. “I thought the guy was crazy. You steal a van in broad daylight? Who does that? Really, who does that?”
At one point, Hoch hit a curb and blew a tire, but continued for approximately five miles to the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport.
The good Samaritan called 911 and followed the suspect all the way to the airport.
“He literally, nonchalantly walked through a garage, an aviation garage and then got on the tarmac and tried to steal the plane,” Mulvihill said. “The police got there and said where is he at? I said he’s right there on the wing of the plane.”
Lieutenant Eric Harper, who was nearby in a marked patrol car, responded to the area and made contact with Mulvihill. At this time, Mulvihill pointed out Hoch, who had run through a business, Double M Aviation, and entered the airfield owned by the City of Lakeland. The suspect made it to a ramp when Lt. Harper ordered Hoch to stop running several times as he ran around several planes. Hoch then jumped onto the wing of a taxing 1978 Piper PA-28R Arrow that was running and preparing to taxi to the runway. Hoch started pulling on the door of the plane to gain entry. Lt. Harper, pursued Hoch onto the wing of the airplane and pulled Hoch from out of the airplane just as he had gained entry.
“I went up onto the airplane and grabbed the suspect as he was entering the cockpit. The plane was running, the pilot was getting ready to taxi to the runway,” Lakeland Police Lt. Eric Harper said. “I got into a struggle with the suspect and removed him from the cockpit. We fell onto the ground where I ended up eventually subduing him and taking him into custody.”
Hoch was transported to the Lakeland Police Department.
Lt. Harper told WFLA, the suspect admitted he planned to hijack the plane. “If I wouldn’t have grabbed ahold of him, the suspect’s statements were, after I arrested him, was, I was going to force a pilot to fly me somewhere.”
The pilot identified as Rodrigo Cabral, 52 years old of Winter Garden, was not injured. Hoch made a spontaneous statement saying that he was going to make the pilot take him somewhere. Hoch was also in possession of $384.00 in property that he removed from the stolen Dodge van when he was arrested.
The incident is something police will never forget. “I’ve never seen something like this in my life,” Lt. Harper said.
Hoch was charged with two counts of grand theft, one count of trespassing, one count of burglary to an occupied conveyance (airplane) and resisting arrest without violence.