Man arrested for ambulance joy ride

CHARLESTON,W.Va. — A Tennessee native who had most recently been living on the streets of Charleston faces charges of stealing an ambulance.

John Charles Pratl, Jr

Kanawha County Deputies arrested John Charles Pratl, 27, late Tuesday night after he was caught driving a stolen ambulance from the Charleston Fire Department. The ambulance was parked at the scene of a fire on Charleston’s west side in the 900 block of Indiana Street when it was taken.

As fire fighters battled the flames, nobody noticed Pratl get into the seat and drive away in the machine.

“The guys were on a residential structure fire and they were packing up,” said Lt. David Hodges of the Charleston Fire Department. “They go back to get in their vehicle, which was parked beside two police cruisers, and it was gone.”

The ambulance was spotted on U.S. Route 119 a couple of hours later by Kanawha County Sheriff’s deputies. According to police, Pratl initially eluded them, but eventually pulled over and was taken into custody.

“He was coming down Corridor G near Cantley Drive,” said Hodges. “There was a low speed pursuit, he was actually obeying most traffic laws. But he finally came to a stop when he was surrounded by cruisers near the Vandalia Apartments.”

A search of the vehicle revealed nothing had been taken. Fully equipped, the ambulance is valued at more than $200,000. There was some minor damage. According to Hodges it looked like the vehicle had struck a yellow pole. Investigators wonder if that happened when he apparently stopped somewhere and purchased gummy bear snacks.

“There was an empty pack on the dashboard and it didn’t belong to any of our guys and wasn’t there before,” said Hodges. “About all we can figure is he was riding around eating snacks.”

The flashing lights were on for the entire time, but Hodges said there were no calls to 911 about the missing fire truck.

“It will be interesting to track where all he went during the time,” Hodges noted.

It’s not the first time a ambulance has been taken. Hodges said on a couple of occasions the ambulances have been stolen in recent yeas. An historical account of the fire at the old state Capitol in downtown Charleston in the 1920’s included a story that a drunk man got into a firetruck during the fire and drove away.

“We’re trying to improve how to secure these vehicles, but unfortunately when we go to a scene we can’t just shut the vehicle off and walk away.” Hodges explained.

Pratl is lodged in the South Central Regional Jail facing a charge of grand larceny. Investigators say there was no indication he was under the influence of any drugs or alcohol and a motive for stealing the ambulance has not been established.

“He kept alluding to it being Halloween and the “devil owned the night,” said Hodges. “He said he was just into mischief.”

The investigation continues.

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