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25th anniversary of one crazy day on the job

Jail escapee's apprehension delayed wrestling coverage

A front page story in the Monday, Feb. 20, 1995 Creston News Advertiser shows an article and photo about a Union County Jail escapee caught in Atlantic. CNA reporter Larry Peterson got a photograph of the capture of the escapee on his way to the district wrestling tournament in Atlantic.
A front page story in the Monday, Feb. 20, 1995 Creston News Advertiser shows an article and photo about a Union County Jail escapee caught in Atlantic. CNA reporter Larry Peterson got a photograph of the capture of the escapee on his way to the district wrestling tournament in Atlantic.

The sports guys needed help last weekend, so it was a pleasure to jump back into the Creston/O-M wrestling beat to cover district tournament action in Atlantic.

As is typical for district tournament day, the emotional swings were up and down as 50% of the participating Panthers advanced to today’s state tournament opening round, and two others fell just short with third-place district finishes after heartbreaking first-round losses.

For me personally, it was the 25th anniversary of a very memorable trip to the same community to cover Creston wrestling in district tournament competition. At the time, I was working as a news writer who helped in sports when I could. Certainly, both realms came into play on Feb. 18 1995.

Before I departed for Atlantic, I got a call from CNA editor Jeff Young that a prisoner had escaped from the Union County Jail and was thought to be heading north. Stefan Greelis had overpowered a jailer while meals were being served. He fled the courthouse, which was virtually empty at mid-day on a Saturday, and stole a pickup in Creston.

Jeff knew I was going north to Atlantic and asked me to take the law enforcement scanner along to monitor in case any news broke on the case while I was in the area.

Boy, was that an important tip!

When I took the News Advertiser job in 1984, Deb couldn’t immediately move with me, as she gave more notice than I did at her job at the Atlantic YMCA. So, I learned the shortcut between Creston and Atlantic very well for a few weeks. That’s the route I took as I headed to the tournament, with my scanner on.

I didn’t realize it right away, but Greelis was headed west on H24, apparently on his way to Council Bluffs, his hometown. Well, my shortcut to Atlantic is H24 toward Prescott, then veering off north to the county road H20 that goes west through Mount Etna toward Highway 148 that connects to Highway 92 at Massena.

By the time I got to Massena I realized from listening to Iowa State Patrol communications from aerial observations that a second alleged stolen vehicle driven by Greelis was just ahead of me. As he was spotted near Atlantic, I admittedly picked up speed northbound on Highway 71, because now I knew I was within range of getting a big story for us at the News Advertiser. (The wrestling coverage would have to wait a bit.)

Greelis had wrecked a second stolen vehicle near Atlantic and was on foot, presumably searching for another vehicle opportunity. Besides being in the right place at the right time, simply by the coincidence of heading to Atlantic for the wrestling tournament, I just happened to know every address they were speaking of in their possible sightings of Greelis, because Deb and I had lived in Atlantic for four years in the early 1980s. It is where we met shortly after college graduation.

So, when I heard on the scanner that state and local authorities were closing in on him behind the Atlantic Hy-Vee store, I zoomed to that area as fast as I safely could drive.

Greelis was captured by an Atlantic police officer near the Schwan’s ice cream plant and I arrived in time to get the photo of him being put in the passenger seat of the Atlantic patrol car, which appeared on the front page of the Monday, Feb. 20 News Advertiser. I was the only news person on the scene of the apprehension.

Greelis was charged with escape, assault while participating in a felony and one second degree motor vehicle theft in Union County and another vehicle theft in Adair County. His little escapade added another 10 to 12 years behind bars. He had been in the Union County Jail on a parole violation from an armed robbery conviction, awaiting a March 1 hearing.

After I got the photo of the apprehension, I drove over to what is now Atlantic Middle School, which at that time was the community’s high school. I was able to see some of the district tournament where Panthers Ryan Myers, Dirk Glynn, Jake Hayes and Ryan Kinsella qualified for the state tournament.

So, my weekend was a little busier than usual as Union County Sheriff John Coulter filled me in on the details of the escape and apprehension for the front page article on Monday, while I also worked on the district wrestling story and photos.

It had to be the craziest day in 40 years of working in this business. One coincidence after another put me in the right place at the right time, in a town where I just happened to know the street locations that I was hearing on the scanner.

From that day forward, I always told groups of students interested in journalism, or those working on student newspapers, “Always be ready for anything, because if you’re in this business long enough, anything will happen.”

•••

Contact the writer:

Twitter: @larrypeterson

Email: lpeterson@crestonnews.com

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