Police: York City man stole ambulance, took joyride

Sean Philip Cotter

The call for a breathing problem early Friday morning in York City was a pretty standard one for the EMT and paramedic who dealt with it until they brought their patient outside and realized their ambulance was gone.

Someone had stolen it when no one was looking — or, at least, no one besides the in-vehicle camera and a vehicle tracking device. The latter led to a quick recovery of the ambulance, and the former showed a cheerful young man apparently quite pleased with his exploits.

"He seemed to be having a good time," said Jim Arvin, the president and CEO of White Rose Ambulance, the York City company that owned the vehicle. "He seemed excited."

York City Police allege the ambulance joyrider was Leonard Eugene Smith, 21, whose last known address was 953 E. Princess St.; he took the vehicle at 2 a.m. Friday for only a few minutes, according to charging documents, just driving it a few blocks away before ditching it.

He's been charged with felony theft, a misdemeanor count of recklessly endangering another person — that's for allegedly taking the ambulance while it was out on a call, putting the patient's wellbeing in jeopardy — and a summary offense of driving while his license was suspended. He was arrested a short time after the theft and remains in York County Prison on $75,000 bail, according to prison records.

Leonard Eugene Smith

Everything ended up just fine; they patient got to the hospital without much delay, and the ambulance — a unit called a mobile intensive-care unit, or MICU, to be specific — was tracked down within minutes of the theft, which allowed Arvin to laugh about it a little bit Saturday afternoon, mostly about how bad an idea it is to steal an emergency vehicle.

"It should make that stupid-video show," he said.

What happened: Emergency responders were called just before 2 a.m. to the 500 block of South Queen Street for reports of a breathing problem. As is protocol, Arvin said, two MICU units went — a primary and a backup, each an ambulance carrying an emergency medical technician and a paramedic. When they got there, the responders saw they wouldn't need that many people so one of the MICUs left, he said.

That was just fine, Arvin said, until the ones who stayed came back outside of the residence, patient in tow, and found no ambulance waiting for them.

"When they came down, the truck was gone," he said.

They had to call in a third unit to bring the patient to the hospital. As far as Arvin knew, the patient was fine.

The backup MICU and the police quickly went out to look for the missing ambulance, with the help of the tracking device. They found the thief had only driven it south down the block, around the corner, and down another street a few more blocks before ditching it, Arvin said. Authorities tracked the vehicle down around the intersection of West Boundary and Cleveland avenues, according to charging documents.

Neither the ambulance nor anything inside of it was damaged, which is a big relief for the company. Arvin says the last MICU his company bought was more than $130,000, and he estimates the equipment inside the vehicle is an additional $75,000 or so.

"It was a great outcome, all things considered," he said.

He said it's usually not that easy to steal an ambulance — it's never happened to White Rose Ambulance before. There's usually multiple emergency personnel around the scene of any incident, often police, so you can't really just walk up to an emergency vehicle and hop in without someone noticing. But, Arvin said, sometimes there are short periods of time when no one is looking at the ambulance, as happened this time.

He said protocol will likely change to make sure incidents such as this one don't happen again.

"I guarantee there will be safety measures put in place next week," he said.

— Reach Sean Cotter