CLARENCE, N.Y. (WIVB) - He's used to rounding up dangerous dogs, but an animal control officer didn't expect a surprising turn when he checked on a home in Clarence.
After his friend died, Jerry Schuler promised the family he'd keep an eye on the friend's empty house. He drove by a few times a day, and Friday evening happened to drive by at just the right time.
Schuler works as the Town of Clarence Animal Control Officer. He had been keeping an eye on the empty home of his friend, whose funeral was less than a week ago.
"I'm just glad we were lucky enough to be there going by at the right time, because I would have felt horrible going back there the next day and found the place emptied out," Schuler said.
Schuler's assistant was giving him a ride home for the night and as they drove past the house, they saw a car where it didn't belong. So they boxed it in with their vehicle and Schuler went inside to investigate.
He noticed the door was kicked in, and just inside the door he came face-to-face with a man police say was 30-year-old Justin Deho. Schuler asked his name.
"When he told me his name, I had heard of him before as a problem. Asked what he was doing here, he gave me a lame excuse. And I told him I think we have a problem. I said I think you're going to have to stay here for a while," Schuler said.
Schuler was in uniform, with his gun in his holster. But he never felt he needed to draw it.
"That may be one of the reasons he gave up as fast as he did," Schuler said.
"Because you look like a police?" reporter Lou Raguse asked.
Schuler nodded yes.
"At any time were you worried he might run or fight you or anything like that?" Raguse asked.
"No. I knew his name. I knew where he lived, just up the road. And we had his car blocked in, so he had no way of getting out. He just gave up and we had him sit in the front seat of his car and called State Police and in less than 10 minutes they were there and took custody of him," Schuler said.
Schuler was worried about the house because of a recent string of burglaries in Clarence.
"It's not only in Clarence. It seems like all over Erie County in the last few years, just burglaries everywhere. And I'm sure 90 percent of them are related back to drugs," he said.
State Police shared the motive.
"He did have a drug addiction," said State Police Investigator Joseph Gill. "A lot of times, the drug use leads to other crimes. Especially burglaries."
Troopers are extremely thankful for what Schuler did. But he was wearing a uniform with a badge, and carried a gun although he never pulled it. If someone else encounters a similar situation, State Police don't recommend confronting the burglar. Troopers say get a license plate number, a description if possible and call police.
Schuler's advice is that neighbors should be neighborly and help keep an eye out for each other.
"He did a fantastic job. He was composed. He wasn't nervous at all. He answered our questions and helped a lot in our investigation," said Investigator Gill.
State Police call it a perfect example of a community member helping prevent crime. Schuler calls it just being a friend.
"I looked out for him as much as I could while he was alive, and hopefully this helped," Schuler said.
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