By MARK FREEMAN
When Steve Johnson saw an opened door and a muddy footprint in his Hillcrest Road home in east Medford early Monday, he believed a burglar was hiding around the corner.
Dressed only in his underwear and carrying a large, iron fire poker, Johnson stepped around the corner and found two terrified men with their arms out, begging not to be bludgeoned and wanting to flee.
“Not one of my most intelligent decisions,” said Johnson, 50. “If they had been armed, I would have been toast. But at that moment, I think they were more afraid of the crazy man in his underwear with a fire poker.”
Johnson stepped back and the burglars fled, and now investigators are looking for the suspects of this two-man crime spree now tied to a stolen car found in a nearby ditch as well as an earlier break-in at another Hillcrest Road home that was foiled by that homeowner as well, authorities said.
The burglars were described as white males in their mid-20s with scruffy facial hair and dark clothing. They appeared to be wearing jeans and hooded sweatshirts, and one was believed to have large gauges in his earlobes, police said.
The two are suspected of burglarizing a garage at 12:05 a.m. in the 6300 block of Hillcrest Road. They fled after the homeowner heard noise in his garage and confronted the pair, according to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.
The pair allegedly entered the garage through an unlocked side door and took money, two cameras and vehicle keys from inside a vehicle parked in that garage before the homeowner intervened, police said.
Sheriff’s deputies were canvassing the area in search of the suspects when they discovered a black BMW sedan in a ditch near the intersection of Sun Ridge Estates and Hillcrest Road, deputies said. That car was later determined to be stolen, police said.
While police were at the scene of the stolen car just a few blocks away, Steve and Brenda Johnson were awakened about 2 a.m. by a home-security alarm that noted a door had been opened.
Steve Johnson is a freelance photographer and former Mail Tribune photo editor; Brenda Johnson is CEO of La Clinica.
In his underwear, Steve Johnson walked downstairs into the family’s home theater as Brenda followed him, he said.
The pair initially thought the open door could have been the return of a foreign-exchange student living with the Johnsons, so Steve Johnson called out his name without getting a response.
Noticing an open side door, he grabbed the fire poker — “it’s a big, beefy thing with a hook on it,” he said — and went to investigate. A muddy footprint on the nearly white rug led him to a walk-in closet at the room’s far side, he said.
“I was standing there in my underwear with a fire poker held like a baseball bat ready to swing, and I stepped around the corner,” Steve Johnson said. “They immediately put their hands in front of their faces and I could see they weren’t armed.”
The men said they meant Johnson no harm, were hiding because someone was chasing them, and begged Johnson to let them go, he said. “I let loose a string of expletives and stepped back,” Steve Johnson said. “It was definitely an adrenalin moment.”
Brenda Johnson telephoned police and deputies were at his door in about a minute, he said.
Deputies conducted an extensive search and used a sheriff’s police dog to find their tracks, police said. However, heavy rain that night kept the dog from tracking the burglars, who escaped, police said.
Anyone with information on the case is urged to telephone the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department tip line at 541-774-8333.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.