Church break-in, 25-mile chase through 2 counties ends with 2 in custody

Two suspects are in custody after allegedly breaking into a Madison Twp. church and leading a witness and law enforcement on a 25-mile chase that ended on U.S. 127 in Eaton.

The break-in happened about 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Heavenly Highway Tabernacle on Michael Road in Madison Twp., and a witness took off after the suspect vehicle. That vehicle eventually crossed into Preble County, and deputies there began pursuit.

“I just got jumped by two men in my church. They are in a car driving away,” the male caller told Butler County dispatchers. “They broke into the church, and I am following them now,”

The caller identified the suspect car as a silver Grand Am and was able to provide the license number.

“They busted in a door,” he said, adding they carried out guitars.

The man followed the suspect car into Preble County, telling the dispatcher they were driving at speeds of 70 to 80 mph and at one point “wiped out” in a cornfield but came back onto the road.

According to Butler County Sherriff’s Office documents, the chase ended about 38 minutes later when the car crashed in Eaton on North Barron Street after tires were punctured with Stop Sticks.

The passenger, Jesse Handwerker, 39, of Dayton, was booked into the Middletown Jail and is charged with breaking and entering and theft, both fifth-degree felonies in Middletown Municipal Court.

The driver, a 33-year-old man also of Dayton, who fled from the wrecked vehicle, remained hospitalized Wednesday, but will be charged in both Preble and Butler counties, according to officials.

“We didn’t have anybody close. We contacted Preble dispatch, and they picked up the pursuit,” said Butler County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ryan Hensley.

Preble County Sheriff Mike Simpson said tire deflation devices were deployed south of Eaton, and the car eventually stopped around Wendy’s on North Barron Street/U.S. 127.

According to witnesses, when the car finally stopped it was rolling on rims.

The driver of the vehicle fled from the car and was apprehended by a K-9 unit.

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