• Last modified 772 days ago (Aug. 9, 2018)


Camper evades 10 cops, plane, dog for 5 hours

Staff writer

What began with a camper trying to sneak into Hillsboro Cove without paying ended in a fruitless five-hour search involving at least 10 law enforcement officers, a tracking dog and a highway patrol airplane.

A woman who was at the camper’s site, however, was arrested on unrelated charges.

The search began when gate attendants told lake patrol deputy Lyle Gillett that a van entered after the gatehouse closed at 10 p.m.

Dispatchers checked the license plate, then told deputies the owner, Robert Welch, Wichita, was wanted on a Sedgwick County warrant for violation of probation for drug convictions. The license plate also reportedly was listed as an expired passenger car tag.

Sheriff’s deputy David Harper-Head headed to Hillsboro Cove, less than a mile from Sheriff Rob Craft’s home, to head the investigation.

According to transmissions recorded by the newspaper, Gillett told a Hillsboro officer who also offered to respond to the incident that he didn’t think the camper was going to go anywhere.

Regardless, another deputy and a Marion officer were summoned to help confront the suspect. Officers closed in at 11:42 p.m. and made contact with a woman at the campsite, but Welch was reported to have left on foot. Officers searched the van, and the woman said he did not have any firearms.

Welch was allegedly spotted 13 minutes later by another camper.

“A neighbor camper saw a man running away from the site,” Undersheriff David Huntley said.

The running man was described as wearing a light blue shirt, blue jeans, tennis shoes, and a ponytail, and headed northwest.

Two rangers were brought to block park exits, and dispatchers told deputies the suspect had a history of escaping from custody.

A Peabody officer was stationed on US-56 to prevent the suspect from escaping that way.

Deputies called for a tracking dog at 11:59, p.m., but no tracking dog was available. A reservoir warden was summoned at 12:03 a.m. to bring a thermal camera, and the woman at the campsite, Julie Schoeffler, 58, Wichita, was arrested one minute later on suspicion of possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia.

The search was expanded to French Creek Cove at 12:09 a.m. and Kansas Highway Patrol was asked to send an aircraft to help with the search. The sheriff and undersheriff were both notified at 12:14 a.m.

“One of the questions they’re going to ask me is whether we’ve got any felony charges and, yes, we have good felony charges — multiple,” Harper-Head said.

A ranger began scanning the area with a thermal camera at 12:28 a.m. and a Harvey County search dog was reported to be en route two minutes after that. The Harvey County officer arrived with the search dog 20 minutes later.

A KHP aircraft arrived at 1:48 p.m. and the search area was expanded 17 minutes later after the trooper weren’t able to locate the suspect. Troopers reported seeing a boat on the reservoir at 2:32 a.m., but the boater was a reservoir engineer helping with the search. KHP ended its search eight minutes later.

A wrecker was summoned to tow away the van at 2:26 a.m.

Officers started collapsing the perimeter of the search area at 3:09 a.m.

“I wish I’d have kept my eye on him a little better, then we’d have had him,” Gillett said when he signed off duty at 4:14 a.m.

“That happens to all of us,” Harper-Head said.

Last modified Aug. 9, 2018