By Erin Mathews
The Salina Journal
Chalk one up for the good guys.
Salinan DeAnna Powell, 45, was sitting at home watching football on her television Sunday, trying not to think about her aches and pains or her crunched van when she heard a knock at the door.
There waiting was a "very fine, upstanding young gentleman" who asked if she was the woman who had been involved in a hit-and-run crash at 1:18 p.m. Saturday at the intersection of Walnut and College streets.
"I just wanted to let you know I caught the guy -- in case you were worried about him being out there," the young man said.
As if that wasn't enough, Powell then saw Juan "Jake" Lopez's car, and it "completely blew my mind," she said.
Lopez, 20, was driving a yellow Camaro with black stripes, one of 1,500 cars with a six-cylinder engine specially made to look like the Transformers comic book and movie hero known as Bumblebee. Powell, a Transformers fan, instantly recognized the "Autobot" that transforms, when the need arises, into a giant, villain-fighting robot.
"I said to him, 'You are a hero, and you're driving around in a hero car, and you have a hero personality,' " Powell said. "This guy Jake came out of nowhere, and he solved the case."
Driving stolen vehicle
Capt. Mike Sweeney of the Salina Police Department said the Wichita man arrested for allegedly running a stop sign and pulling in front of Powell's van had been driving a stolen pickup truck when the vehicles collided.
Daniel R. Robinson, 34, is accused of running a stop sign while westbound on Walnut Street. Powell had been driving her van south on College Avenue. Powell couldn't stop in time, and the front of her van struck the side of the bed of the pickup, a white Ford F-150 with temporary tags, Sweeney said.
Robinson allegedly drove away after the collision. The truck was located the following day in the 800 block of North Fourth Street, Sweeney said. The truck had been reported stolen by Titus Huffman, of Wichita.
Sweeney said police found an open can of beer in the truck. He said Robinson is accused of possessing stolen property, refusing a breath test, carrying an open container, leaving the scene of an accident and driving with a suspended driver's license, in addition to running the stop sign.
Witnessing the crash
Lopez said that when the crash occurred, his girlfriend was looking out the window of their home and saw the truck leaving. She ran out to see if Powell was OK and told Lopez to call 911.
Lopez said he was at a car wash the following day, in the process of wiping down his 2010 Transformer-edition Camaro, when he noticed a Ford F-150 with damage toward the rear and became suspicious. He said he dropped his chamois and pursued the pickup down Broadway Boulevard to a gas station at Ninth Street and Broadway Boulevard.
Lopez said he pulled in to the gas pump on the end and called police.
Calling the cops
"I have a bright yellow car so it's kind of hard not to miss," he said. "He pulls around and gives me the weirdest look because I'm sure he knew I was on the phone with the cops, and he was like, 'Who are you on the phone with?' I'm like, 'Don't worry about who I'm on the phone with, that's my business, not yours.' "
He said he declined the man's request for $5 to help him buy gas so he could get back to his hometown of Wichita.
Avoiding the rocks
Lopez said that when the pickup left the gas station, he was still in pursuit as the truck pulled onto Pacific Avenue and then turned down an alley and floored it, spraying rocks and gravel that Lopez avoided so they wouldn't damage his paint job. Lopez said a patrol car showed up, and he and the officer continued looking for the truck for a while.
"After that, I went on with my business," he said. "I went back to the car wash to rewash my car and dry it because I hate water spots. I was trying to dry it again. I'd literally dried one fender and half my trunk lid when the police called me and said they'd found him."
Lopez said a police officer shook his hand and told him he'd done a good job.
Car 5 months old
Lopez, who owns all of the Transformer movies, said he got the car five months ago after he wrecked his red Camaro. He said he was looking on Craigslist for another Camaro when he found the Transformer vehicle advertised.
Since he drove to Claremore, Okla., to pick it up, he's been washing it about three times a week.
"It's an awesome car; I love it," he said. "I usually get it out every night and just cruise around and park it. I don't put a whole lot of miles on it."
It's the Bumblebee!
Lopez said the main thing he loves about the car is the way kids respond when he drives by.
"Every time I drive by a school, no matter where it is, kids run to the fence and say, 'Bumblebee!' " he said. "It's just kids, in general, wherever I go -- Walmart, Kmart, anywhere -- kids just scream out, 'Bumblebee!' "
He said he usually drives a pickup, but it seems fitting that he had the Camaro when he spotted the suspected hit-and-run driver. He said it never transformed into a robot during the pursuit, although "I was wanting it to."
(c)2014 The Salina Journal