FOLLANSBEE - A Follansbee man has been charged with entering an automobile without breaking after being chased several blocks by an instructor at a local fitness center Wednesday.
Follansbee Police confirmed Matthew Alan Leavitt, 31, of 325 Rockdale Road, was arrested on that charge and public intoxication after being pursued by a woman outside Cindy's Fusion Fitness on Main Street (state Route 2) at about 9:22 p.m.
Carrie Laase-Whitehead said she was arriving at the center to teach a class when she saw Leavitt touching the door handles of several vehicles in the lot. Laase-Whitehead said she asked Leavitt what he was doing, and he replied he was just walking around.
But she continued to watch him closely and when one of her students came out of the building, the two saw Leavitt enter her unlocked vehicle.
Laase-Whitehead said the student, who also is a friend, had just retrieved her cell phone from her car and was returning to it when they saw Leavitt bend over inside it.
Laase-Whitehead said to her surprise, her friend pulled Leavitt from her car and held onto him.
"He was scuffling around, so I went over to help," she said.
At that point, Leavitt broke free and fled, and she pursued him, Laase-Whitehead said.
She said he ran into a Dumpster near the business, striking it very hard, and she thought he might stop. But he continued through Main Street and other city streets to a steep set of city steps along Jefferson Street, she said.
Laase-Whitehead said Leavitt was clearly exhausted when he reached the top and collapsed. She said she detained him there until police arrived, though he didn't put up much of a fight.
"The cops were pretty quick in responding. I didn't have to wait long," she said.
She said while chasing Leavitt, she dialed 911 on her cell phone while her friend also called 911 from inside the fitness center.
Asked if she was concerned that Leavitt might be armed, Laase-Whitehead said she wasn't because she has received training in self-defense.
She said her own vehicle was broken into at her home last summer and she's aware of many other Brooke County residents whose vehicles have been broken into or entered by thieves.
She said frustration with the recurring crimes probably fueled her desire to catch Leavitt.
Laase-Whitehead said she had taught another class in Martins Ferry before coming to Follansbee and though she was tired, she proceeded to teach her class after the chase ended.
Cindy Petri, the center's owner, said while she's impressed by Laase-Whitehead's determination, she wouldn't have encouraged her to pursue the alleged thief.
"I'm just glad no one was hurt. I don't recommend anyone do that," she said.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)