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Stolen items found after chase

A man is accused of stealing from an Inglis family and escaping police.

By JORGE SANCHEZ
Published January 26, 2007


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INGLIS - When bait store owner Danny Cummings awoke Tuesday morning to discover that a con man had stolen his son's lawn mowing equipment, he found life repeating itself.

For the second time, Cummings would be tracking down area drug dealers, trying to retrieve stolen items so his life could continue.

In 2004, Cummings tracked down a rifle that his son, Daniel, had stolen and traded for some cocaine the year before. The son confessed and faced Judge Ric Howard, who is known for handing down lengthy prison sentences.

The judge, angry that drug dealers had the gun, sent the 19-year-old man to prison for 10 years.

While the son was in prison, his father bartered with drug dealers, found the stolen rifle and returned it to its owner. Howard relented and converted the prison sentence to probation.

One would think that such drama with drug dealers happens once in a lifetime, if that. But not to Danny Cummings.

On Tuesday morning, the entire Cummings family was once again chasing after drug dealers after being the victim of a swindle.

It was a rainy Monday night, Cummings said, when William Cecil Baxter walked into his bait shop on U.S. 19. Parked outside was a lawn service trailer that belonged to Daniel Cummings - with about $25,000 worth of equipment inside.

Baxter told the elder Cummings that he was down on his luck. His girlfriend, Heather Burnam, lay sick out in their truck.

The men playing cards at the bait shop took pity on Baxter, offering him oysters and lining up a job for him aboard a shrimp boat the next morning.

But Baxter was playing them, setting up a valuable heist, said Capt. Tim Bible, acting chief of the Inglis Police Department, whose interview of Burnam helped solve the case.

"She said that as soon as they drove by the bait shop and saw the trailer, Baxter told her, 'That's our ticket out of here,' " Bible said.

While Baxter schmoozed with the bait shop regulars, police said, Burnam hitched up the trailer to their white Ford pickup.

A few hours later, they drove off into the night. With them went two commercial lawn mowers, weed trimmers and a trailer.

Cummings said his son was devastated.

"He is working real hard to rebuild his life, and to have his livelihood taken, that was rough," he said.

Bible started working the case at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. He put out a bulletin on the Ford and trailer and also worked the phones, calling area law enforcement agencies and talking with a confidential informant.

Leads took him to Homosassa, then to Suwannee and Columbia counties, then back to Homosassa. Cummings, his wife, Diann, and son Daniel followed the police cars all around.

Later Tuesday, it all paid off. A Citrus sheriff's deputy had stopped Baxter's white truck. All that remained in the truck bed were a couple of weed trimmers.

"He was taking those to a drug dealer," Bible said.

Baxter was arrested, handcuffed and put in the back of a sheriff's cruiser. But he was somehow able to wriggle his hands in front of him and jump in the front seat to take off in the sheriff's car.

The chase ended in a crash about 3 miles later, and Baxter went to jail.

Cummings said his wife witnessed the event and was speaking to him on a cell phone as it happened.

"Baxter was pulled over in front of one of the drug dealers' houses," Cummings said. "One of the lawn mowers was found in the back yard."

Baxter had traded the lawn mower for a half ounce of crack cocaine and $200 in cash, Bible said.

"He sold another one to a different dealer for $400," Bible said.

At first, neither Baxter nor Burnam were cooperative, Bible said.

Then he decided to try a different approach. He questioned Burnam alone, asking if she was familiar with Daniel Cummings' story.

"She said she had heard of the case, and that seemed to get her to start talking," Bible said. "She asked to speak to Cummings, but I told her that wouldn't happen."

Then, Burnam cracked. She started to cry and told Bible where to find the missing items, which were all recovered.

"She also asked me to tell Daniel she was sorry," Bible said.

Danny Cummings said his son wanted to do something to repay the Inglis police officer.

"He offered to buy him dinner, but he wouldn't take him up," Cummings said. "Chief Bible told me that just seeing the smile on my son's face was reward enough."

Jorge Sanchez can be reached at sanchez@sptimes.com 860-7313 in Citrus or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 7313.

[Last modified January 25, 2007, 23:09:21]


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