Marco Francia recognized the mini-monster truck. Then he saw the company name plate on the back. As the chase hurtled toward East Haven, he started piecing together the crime.
By the time the chase ended in a marsh, Francia (pictured) and his fellow city cops recovered not just an alleged burglar, but thousands of dollars of construction equipment meant for the ongoing effort to rebuild I-95. They were on their way to tracking the physical evidence to present to prosecutors, who often have too little to go on in burglary cases.
For Francia, the wild ride last Friday not only called into play skills developed over 22 years as a city cop. It also tapped into information gathered in his private life.
Recalling the incident in an interview, Francia, who’s 42, was still shaking his head a week later. At the serendipity of it. Not to mention the sight of an old friend he tried to help when the friend was strung out and headed to jail.
“We arrest people all the time. It’s more difficult when it’s someone you’re familiar with,” Francia reflected. “He’s a very talented mason. He’s a very nice guy ... when’s he not on drugs. He comes from a great family; I know the parents. I know deep down this guy has potential.”
To see how a case can sometimes come together in unexpected ways, follow along with Francia as he put two and two together on his chase with the mason.
It started with an after-midnight coffee run.
It was just after 2 a.m. on Friday. The bars had let out.
Francia and other officers on the downtown midnight-to-8 a.m. beat waited for the crowds to dissipate, for the usual nonsense on the street to end.
Then he headed east in his patrol car to Forbes Fuel on the East Shore, for his usual: a medium cup of Baronet coffee with cream and sugar.
“You’ve got to have the caffeine,” said Francia, who doesn’t sleep much. “That’s what keeps you going.”
A fellow downtown officer, Lars Vallin, followed in a separate patrol car as Francia cruised along Forbes Avenue toward a traffic light at the Stiles Street intersection.
Francia had a green light. Suddenly, a Chevy K-10 “mini monster truck,” “with the big wheels and the lift kit,” roared through the red light from Stiles. The driver swerved onto Fulton, right in front of Francia.
Francia followed. He tried to close the distance as the driver turned onto Fulton.
What was the truck driver doing in the industrial stretch of the Annex at that hour? Francia wondered. He thought back to reports he’d heard at lineup recently, about how someone has been stealing equipment from the Walsh construction company. Walsh has sites set up from West Haven through New Haven to East Haven for work it’s doing widening I-95.
This could be one of those burglaries, Francia thought.
Francia looked at the vehicle. I know that truck from somewhere, he said.
He looked again. It had the name of a masonry company on it. Right—John’s company.
Francia has hired John in the past to work on buildings he buys and restores. Francia has restored 10 multi-family homes in the Trowbridge Square neighborhood alone.
He thought about John’s crack and heroin problem. Sometimes he’s off. Sometimes he’s on. Maybe he’s driving that way because he’s back on, Francia thought.
“He’s coming out of there like a bat out of hell. Obviously he doesn’t have any business there that I’m aware of. I know he has a drug problem and a history of theft and burglaries,” including a some of Francia’s own equipment.
Up Fulton to Fairmont Avenue, they approached a stop sign. Francia turned on his strobe light and siren, a signal to stop.
John didn’t stop.
Instead he ran the stop sign at 20-25 miles per hour, according to Francia. While driving, John “opens the door and he looks back at the cruiser—while he’s driving.”
“I’m on the fence now. I’m thinking: Maybe he looks back and he recognized me and he’s goofing around a little bit. I assumed he’s trying to be funny and not stop. I’ll pull him over and tell him to get his truck home.”
John sped up. Francia realized this wasn’t a goof. He also realized that John couldn’t have recognized the cruiser; it was too dark out, and the bright strobe lights would have prevented him from seeing through the windshield. “If he knew it was me,” Francia concluded, “he would have stopped.”
“He’s running for a reason,” Francia realized—either stolen goods, or drugs in the car, or both.
And come to think of it, John had led police from multiple towns on a high-speed chase before, in 2004. He struck a pedestrian in that one, at a time when he was suspected of armed robberies and mail thefts.
As Francia and Vallin followed John up Fulton and left onto Quinnipiac Avenue, John made a quick right onto Warwick. Francia kept the police dispatcher notified on the route, as back-up units made their way over. He also called East Haven. He knew that John, who’s in his 40s, lives with his parents in East Haven. He figured the chase would end there. He gave the street name so East Haven cops would be there ready.
John swerved left down Russell Street, which dips. From a vantage point 50 feet up the hill, Francia noticed equipment in the back of the Chevy. “You could see the tops of generators. There was other equipment and tools piled in.” So this was definitely a burglary. “He usually has sand in the back of his truck, being a mason. He doesn’t keep tools in the back of the truck, especially at night time.”
Down Russell, to Clifton, the chase proceeded through Fair Haven Heights past East Grand Avenue. Right on Clifton. Right onto Eastern Street—and, yep, straight into East Haven.
East Haven cops were waiting at the block of John’s parents house. John slowed down as he passed the house, according to Francia—then he sped up again. He turned onto a horseshoe-shaped street that begins, and ends again, on the parents’ street.
With a trail of cruisers following him, he looped around that street a couple of times. The cops don’t usually form a roadblock in such situations, Francia said. Too dangerous. They wait for the fleeing suspect to bail out somewhere when he realizes he can’t drive away.
Which John did—at a senior housing complex nearby. He drove into the parking lot, then into the yard. Francia knew a marsh was in the back, so John would have to get out. Cops drove on either side of the rear. John bailed and ran into the swamp. Some officers caught him on foot.
Francia stayed by John’s truck, where he found what would later be estimated at $6,000 worth of equipment, including two identical brand new Honda generators, a Sawzall, new extension cords, and a platform mounting carriage.
As officers brought the handcuffed suspect to a waiting patrol car, he finally spotted and recognized Francia.
“Marco,” he called. Could he talk?
Francia approached the car. “John,” he said, “all you had to do is pull over. You put a lot of people in danger.”
And that was it. “At the end of a pursuit,” Francia reflected, “our adrenaline is rushing. Your heart’s pumping. You don’t feel like having a big conversation with someone.”
He also felt let down. “I hadn’t seen him in a couple of months. I thought he was doing better than he was. You really don’t want to see someone do bad. He’d lost quite a bit of weight.” His eyes were buggy. Cops found a crack pipe and eight empty crack bags on him, Francia said. (It turns out John has been on a streak. East Haven police have arrested him several times in recent months for alleged larceny, forgery, violation of probation, narcotics possession, credit card theft, disorderly conduct.)
Work was just beginning for Francia and his fellow officers. Using Google maps on his phone, Francia quickly tracked down the all-night Florida office of a rental company where the equipment had come from. (The name was on tags.) The operator tracked the serial numbers to Walsh Construction.
Officers checked out various Walsh sites. They found one spot where some equipment had been missing. A Walsh employee coming to work around 4:30 a.m. saw cops at one site, figured a burglary had taken place, and discovered equipment missing at another. He told the cops.
Meanwhile, the operator of a welding shop at Edgemere Street saw cops nearby when he arrived at work around 6:30 or 7. He played the surveillance tapes from the night before. There was John’s truck.
Francia ended up working a double shift, until 4 p.m. He and his colleagues had lots of evidence for prosecutors. Meanwhile, John confessed in a statement.
During a break in the action, Francia did make it to Forbes Fuel for that cup of Baronet. At 8 a.m.
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
• Shafiq Abdussabur
• Maneet Bhagtana
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Sydney Collier
• David Coppola
• Joe Dease
• Milton DeJesus
• Brian Donnelly
• Anthony Duff
• Bertram Etienne
• Paul Finch
• Jeffrey Fletcher
• Renee Forte
• William Gargone
• William Gargone & Mike Torre
• Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
• Dan Hartnett
• Ray Hassett
• Robin Higgins
• Ronnell Higgins
• Racheal Inconiglios
• Hilda Kilpatrick
• Amanda Leyda
• Anthony Maio
• Steve McMorris
• Stephanie Redding
• Tony Reyes
• Luis & David Rivera
• Salvador Rodriguez
• Brett Runlett
• David Runlett
• Marcus Tavares
• Martin Tchakirides
• Stephan Torquati
• Kelly Turner
• John Velleca
• Alan Wenk
• Michael Wuchek
• David Zannelli
• David Zaweski
(To suggest an officer to be featured, contact us here.)