Deputy gets results on crime for 90-year-old, spots getaway van

Burglars stole purse while elderly woman was sleeping

MARION COUNTY, Fla. – When Deputy Branden Donahue started his shift one Wednesday afternoon last month, he first checked his email from his supervisors, as he always does.


That Wednesday, he noticed two pictures of a pair pushing an overflowing shopping cart out of a Marion County Walmart and a white utility van leaving the parking lot.


Donahue made a mental note to keep an eye out for all three.


According to the Marion County Sheriff's Office, earlier that day the men in the photo, Preston Jay Barkwell and Renney Alexan Hardley, had sneaked into the home of a 90-year-old Summerfield resident, stole her purse while she was sleeping and used the stolen credit cards at the nearby Walmart.


"I notice the vehicle [van] behind me as it passed me and the driver looked like the suspect in the photos," Donahue told News 6 anchor Erik von Ancken. "I didn't want them to realize I knew who they were, to bring the situation down a little, so I talked to them like it was a regular traffic stop."


Donahue spotted the van on North U.S. 441 after remembering the photos that had been emailed to him by his commander.


"They didn't have any reason to think I knew what was going on," Donahue said. "Because the time lapse was so short from when the crime happened to when I stopped them."


He calmly asked the driver for identification and pointed out the people in the back of the van lying down.


"How y'all doing?" asked Donahue. "You got someone sitting in the back with no seat belt on?"


Donahue returned to his patrol car, called for backup, and called his commander.


"That van, I'm out with it, and the white male is wearing the same shirt as in the photo," Donahue told his commander over the phone.


After additional deputies arrived, they said they arrested the men in the front seat - Barkwell and Hardley - and said they confirmed they were the ones in the Walmart surveillance pictures.


"I'm getting a lot of attention for something I don't think I deserve, that's my opinion," Donahue said. "I'm just out doing my job."


Barkwell and Hardley were both charged with occupied burglary, grand theft, grand theft of a dwelling, and fraudulent use of a credit card.


"If I hadn't had the information and wasn't where I was and been paying attention, I wouldn't have made the traffic stop and wouldn't have caught them as fast as we did," Donahue said. "Who knows how many crimes would have been prevented with us catching them so fast."


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