By J. Hogan
Some weeks are odder than others. Two Thursdays ago, I was sitting on a hospital bed in the pre-surgical prep area at AHN Wexford about to go in to have surgery on my right hand.
I had my phone with me, and it chirped. It was a text from one of our deacons, Sean.
“Pastor, is this our van?”
Attached was a link to an online news story, which I click on, and sure enough, it was our old Dodge church van – one we hadn’t used since our move across from the Sto-Rox High School in 2021, when we took out the seats and used it to haul materials from our old building on Broadway up to the new site.
Behind the van was a tipped-over ATM machine, and I recognized the location as the Clearview Federal Credit Union across from O’Reilly Auto Parts in Kennedy Township.
With time ticking before I was going under the knife, I scrambled to call up footage from the several cameras we have around the property, so I could email the footage to our local police to share with, I assumed, the Kennedy Police, the county police, and – being an attempted bank heist – the FBI.
The first thing I found was one of our local officers just after sunup, poking around in the spot where the van had rested on our back lot for the last couple of years. He took a couple of pictures, noted that we had cameras, and called that into the station.
I scrolled back further, and yep, there it was. At 3:25 a.m., a white SUV rolls up Dale Street, rides along the front of the church, loops around to the back alley and drops two fellas off. They walk down the alley, giving us one good view of their faces, and proceed to our Ford van – which is slated to be donated to a new church in Ambridge next week.
Thankfully, the van’s battery is dead and they do minimal damage before figuring out that it’s not going anywhere.
A one-ton van with a big V-8 engine, could’ve dragged the whole credit union out to the highway had they gotten it started, but instead they moved on to the older, smaller Dodge van.
The Dodge was a gift from a church in Cairo, Georgia.
When my son Jonathan and I rode down to pick it up in December of 2018, that area of Georgia, right on the Florida line, was still devastated by a recent hurricane and the damage throughout the area was tremendous.
The van, however, hadn't been damaged in the hurricane.
It took another five years and relocation to our town, far from hurricane country, to do bad damage to the van.
The thieves broke the door locks, the back window, the steering column and ignition assembly, and rode off with the tailpipe screaming as it had apparently been cut at an earlier time as someone – perhaps the same upstanding citizens? – helped themselves to the catalytic converter.
The white SUV followed them past the rest of the cameras and off on their bank-robbing adventure.
That didn’t work out either, apparently. The van may have gotten stuck in the decorative foliage, perhaps it crapped out, or maybe the thieves just got spooked and took off, but the ATM machine was found right behind the van, not broken into, to my knowledge, just tipped over and dragged a few feet.
Of course, having the sun rise to your church van surrounded by cop cars, news vans and lots of speculation about how it got involved in a bank heist isn’t exactly the best marketing campaign for a church. I’m grateful that the video footage clearly shows it was a stolen vehicle, and not driven, say, by one of our deacons or volunteer drivers for the shenanigans.
All in all, it only hastens our procrastination to scrap the old girl, which will bring in a few hundred dollars for the church. So it seems someone will make out a bit from the night’s caper.
Perhaps even the justice system, who processed the van for prints and got some good footage of the SUV, and the two van thieves' faces.
Not the most ideal of circumstances when one is already a bit anxious about surgery in a few minutes, though. Thankfully, the surgery went as planned, unlike the caper outlined above.
Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks.