Less than 24 hours after going airborne over the Highway 14 viaduct and having his SUV burst into flames, the same Neligh man stole a car and John Deere Gator, leaving both stranded.
Dennis Statler, 45 of Neligh, survived a fiery crash near the intersection of Highways 14 and 20 around 6:20 a.m. Sunday. Early Monday morning, Statler left a stolen Gator stuck in a swamp and stolen car in the middle of the Royal Road.
According to Neligh Police Officer Phil Hart - in the early morning hours Monday - Statler walked from a house he rents in Neligh to Jim and Pat Blackburn’s home south of Neligh along Highway 14 and stole Blackburn’s John Deere Gator from inside their garage. Video shows Statler spent nearly 30 minutes with a flashlight in hand looking for a way into the home and buildings before leaving with the Gator.
Statler drove the Gator down the Cowboy Trail and into a swamp about 5 miles from Blackburn’s home, leaving it stuck up to its axle in a swamp.
Hart said Statler then walked about a city block and stole a Pontiac Aurora owned by Jeremy Borer and drove it to Royal, where he left it abandoned in the middle of the Royal blacktop about 75 yards south of the railroad tracks.
Statler was picked up by a motorist and taken back to his home, where Hart was waiting for him. Hart had been called to Statler's home for a welfare check at about 4:20 a.m. when Statler's girlfriend could not locate him.
Rambling about his last whereabouts and "not making sense," Hart began investigating. He located the stolen car near Royal, and eventually the stolen Gator in the swamp, which was traced to Blackburns via the serial number.
Statler was arrested at his home late Monday morning and confessed to stealing the vehicles, Hart said.
“We found all of the vehicles before anyone knew they had been stolen,” Hart said. “There were several agencies assisting with this investigation. This was a great team effort between the Neligh Police, Nebraska State Patrol and Antelope County Sheriff’s Department.”
Statler is charged with two counts of theft and possession of drug paraphernalia. He is being held in the Antelope County Jail in Neligh and will make an appearance in Antelope County Court on Wednesday.