Robbery thwarted in Wakarusa
What would you do if you were woken from sleep shortly before midnight on a dark and stormy night, by your doorbell ringing?
If you had lived your life in the small, quiet community of Wakarusa, you likely would throw on something more appropriate for visitors calling and then answer the door to assist the person that was seemingly in need of help.
What if the person at the door then put a gun in your face and demanded money? Any number of outcomes might occur and answers would vary — but 37-year-old Lance Mestach said he simply reacted — which resulted in his wrestling the assailant off the porch, onto the ground and taking the revolver from him.
His wife Jane said when she first heard the doorbell ring Oct. 25, she assumed it was someone in need of help. Lance threw on a pair of shorts and a sweatshirt and though both of them peeked from windows (her from the second floor and he from a ground-floor window) neither saw anyone outside.
"I thought it was a prank at first," Lance said. "Then I saw a guy with a black hood and so I opened the door and asked if I could help." From there Mestach said details got a little fuzzy — after the suspect pulled a gun on him and told him to give him money.
"It was about two to three feet from my face," he said. "...I think I told him if he didn't leave I would kill him. You have so little time to think — you just react, and more or less my thought was to protect."
Meanwhile: "I heard scuffling and called 911," said Jane.
With his wife upstairs and four children ages 3 to 11 in bed, Lance said "You just jump into action. I had no thoughts of apprehending him or trying to get information for an investigation. I just grabbed the gun and twisted it and wrestled him to the ground."
With no martial arts or military duty — Mestach previously sold cars and now owns an insurance agency in Mishawaka, and only leisurely shooting or managing vermin with a rifle — Mestach had no formal training, but his 6-foot, 250-pound frame was the advantage, that and surprise, that gave him the dominance over the 5' 8" 160-pounds assailant. In the process Lance gouged his hand with the gun and pulled a bandana from the head of the would-be robber. "I think he wasn't prepared for anyone being home," Lance said. "And then he wasn't expecting me to react. I think he was taken aback."
He then ran up to the house and shouted to his wife to call 911, to which she replied she was already on the phone. That, unfortunately was something their two oldest sons heard as they were alerted to the situation. "My six-year-old woke up when the police arrived but I didn't even check on the two oldest until later because I thought they had slept through it," said Jane. "After the police got here I heard someone in the bathroom and then went in and they were both scared to death."
During the robbery attempt, after Mestach had alerted his wife to the attack, the suspect shouted to someone and then a vehicle in the Mestach's driveway turned its lights on.
"That's when I realized there was more than one," he said. Lance then did what he had earlier forced himself not to do. He shot at the intruder.
"When I got the gun from him, I had made the decision not to pull the trigger on that person," he said. "It's God's job to judge, not mine, and I didn't want to hurt him even if to keep him there until police arrived. They sat in the car for a little while and then I stepped back out and fired a round at the vehicle … but that didn't scare them off. I went back in and then when I looked out again, they were gone."
Lance said that about 10 minutes after the 911 call Wakarusa Marshal Bob Cunningham arrived at the scene, and realizing the attached garage had been broken into, waited for backup to investigate. When Elkhart County Sheriffs arrived, they found that someone had taken a GPS and rifled through the Mestach's van and Yukon.
"I didn't give much of a description for them to go on," said Lance. "It was pitch black and raining." Though he didn't see much of the assailant, or a strong indicator of his ethnicity, he said he believed the intruder to be in his late teens or early 20s and white or hispanic.
"We've both lived here our whole lives," Jane said. "We've never felt unsafe."
Many might call him a hero, or describe his as exceptionally brave, or foolhardy. Jane said, "He was just protecting his family. Lance said all he knew was that he was not going to let him get in the house."
"There's still a little bit of me that can't believe it happened," said Lance two days later. "You don't hear about this kind of thing happening in small towns." The Mestach's have lived in the home in the rural 30000-block of C.R. 36 — peacefully — for five years though both said they plan to take a few new safety precautions with their home in the near future.
"I don't really want the saturation or the spirit of fear to dictate my lifestyle or to change us in any way," Lance explained. "Now, when it comes to being responsible to protect your family, I think those changes will come now."
In relation to this incident, the Elkhart Sheriff's Department is looking for an older, four-door, passenger car with square-shaped tail lights. The gun used in the attempted robbery was a silver H&R .32 caliber revolver with black grips.
Sheriffs Department deputies are also investigating an incident where three suspects entered into Herman J. Royer's home in the 20000 block of C.R. 44 Oct. 25, at approximately 12:47 a.m. With the second incident, suspects entered into the home through unlocked doors and demanded money from Royer. After Royer yelled at them to leave, the suspects fled from the home. The suspects in this case are described as short, younger males. No weapons were displayed during the second incident.
If anyone has information about these crimes or the suspects involved, contact the Elkhart County Sheriff's Department at 574-533-4151.