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RURAL CISSNA PARK — Two Rankin men remained jailed Thursday in Iroquois County for allegedly stealing anhydrous ammonia from a fertilizer storage area southeast of Cissna Park.
Chris M. Hofbauer, 29, and Dewey Couch Jr., 52, who both listed the same address in the 300 block of East Fifth Street in Rankin, were charged Monday in Iroquois County Circuit Court with multiple felonies in connection with the theft of anhydrous ammonia on Friday, Oct. 19, at Crop Production Services, 289 N. 1700 East Road.
Sheriff Derek Hagen said deputies had been watching the facility in an effort to curb a recent increase in the theft of anhydrous ammonia, an ingredient commonly used in the illegal production of methamphetamine.
Hagen said that shortly before 10 p.m. Oct. 19, deputies saw a vehicle enter the facility’s lot, and a man exited and walked up to an anhydrous ammonia tank. The man, later identified as Hofbauer, then got on top of the tank and filled a container full of the liquid fertilizer.
Deputies approached Hofbauer as he was walking back toward the vehicle.
“The subject then jumped into the vehicle and took off,” Hagen said.
A seven-minute chase ensued, with speeds reaching in excess of 76 mph.
Hagen said Couch was driving the vehicle, a 1995 Geo Tracker, and tried eluding police by going through a field. However, the mini sport utility vehicle ended up getting stuck by some railroad tracks.
Both men then allegedly tried to flee police on foot. Hofbauer was apprehended immediately, Hagen said, and Couch was found several hours later by Vermilion County sheriff’s deputies as he was walking toward Rankin.
“Based on the description and the vehicle owner, Vermilion County knew who they were looking for,” Hagen noted.
As of Thursday, Couch and Hofbauer both remained at the Iroquois County Jail, with bond set at $25,000 for Hofbauer and $30,000 for Couch.
Couch and Hofbauer were charged with one count each of unlawful possession of anhydrous ammonia, a Class 1 felony, and unlawful possession of anhydrous ammonia in an unauthorized container and tampering with anhydrous ammonia equipment, both Class 3 felonies.
Couch was charged additionally with aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude a peace officer, a Class 4 felony.
On Tuesday, both appeared in court and were appointed public defenders. Arraignment was set for Nov. 29 for Hofbauer and Nov. 20 for Couch.
Hagen said the container filled with liquid anhydrous ammonia that was stolen from the facility was thrown out of the vehicle during the chase. The plastic container was destroyed upon impacting the ground, Hagen said, noting the extreme cold temperature of the liquid made the container brittle.
Hagen said the vehicle was inventoried, and there were no items found that were associated with methamphetamine production.
These were the second and third arrests made this month in connection with the theft of anhydrous ammonia in Iroquois County. Jarrod C. Burton, 19, of Hoopeston, was arrested on Oct. 8 on a warrant for unlawful possession of anhydrous ammonia and tampering with anhydrous ammonia equipment. Burton has pleaded not guilty, and a pretrial hearing is set for Nov. 2.
Hagen said the frequency of anhydrous ammonia thefts is starting to increase in Iroquois County. He said problems were at an all-time high from about 2003 to 2007 but then seemed to die down after more than a dozen people from the county were sentenced to prison on methamphetamine-related charges.
“But I would say in the last three to four months, we’ve been getting notifications from fertilizer plants that they’d been having tanks tampered with, so it’s picked up a little bit the last few months,” Hagen said, “but it’s no where near it was five, six or seven years ago.”