Stolen semi traced by tracking equipment in Wisconsin

The company owning a semitrailer truck stolen following a crash on Interstate 94 at Highway 37 earlier this week was able to track the vehicle to Tomah, Wis. 

John W. Fuller, a Carteret, N.J., man accused of stealing the truck, could appear in Eau Claire County Court today. The 46-year-old was transported to the Eau Claire County Jail Thursday from Monroe County. He was taken into custody Wednesday by Wisconsin State Patrol troopers in Tomah and treated for non-life-threatening injuries sustained in the Eau Claire County crash.

According to information from the Eau Claire County sheriff's office and State Patrol:

Deputies and troopers responded to a report of a crash involving a semitrailer truck at about 11:47 p.m. Tuesday in the construction zone on I-94 near Highway 37 in the Eau Claire County town of Brunswick.

Fuller was driving the Arnold Transportation Services unit west on I-94 in the left traffic lane. The right lane was closed because of construction. The semi left the road, traveled into the median and then went down the embankment, where it came to rest after striking a concrete retaining wall at Highway 37.

Fuller left the scene before officers arrived. At 7:45 a.m. Wednesday, Scott Vavra, an employee of Cummins NPower, 2600 W. Jopke Road -- about a quarter-mile from the crash scene -- reported a semi owned by Lawrence Nationalease of Chippewa Falls was taken from the parking lot sometime between 8 p.m. Tuesday and 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. The keys had been left in the ignition of the unlocked unit valued at about $75,000.

Vavra told an Eau Claire County deputy he was in contact with Robert Licht, an employee of Lawrence Nationalease, and Licht told him tracking equipment in the stolen semi showed the unit was at a truck stop in Tomah, and he had contacted the Tomah Police Department about recovering it.

The deputy later contacted Licht, who said a company mechanic disabled the semi -- found in the Walmart parking lot in Tomah -- so it couldn't be moved again.

The deputy talked to a Tomah officer, who said he had contact with Fuller but released him before learning the semi was stolen. The deputy then contacted the trucking company that employs Fuller -- Arnold Transportation Services in Texas -- and advised an employee Fuller was involved in a theft. She said she would disable his company credit cards and contact the sheriff's office if his whereabouts became known.

A State Patrol sergeant later advised the deputy a trooper had located and arrested Fuller on a preliminary charge of operating a motor vehicle without the owner's consent. Fuller was taken to a hospital, where he admitted to stealing the semi and leaving it in the Walmart lot.

"It was kind of a mess to start out with," State Patrol Sgt. Steve Tape said.

Officers looked for Fuller after the crash, said Tape, noting motorists sometimes wander off after getting knocked around.

"What I want to know is how he got to Tomah?" said Tape, noting motorists can't get on or off I-94 at Highway 37, and Fuller was from New Jersey with no apparent ties to Eau Claire.

Copyright 2014 - The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.