Jury hears complicated tale of home invasion, car theft & chase

OKEECHOBEE — At first, Shannon Davis thought to herself: “What is this man doing in my house?”

Then, when Mark J. Saunders put his gun to the head of Albert Davis, Shannon’s husband, she feared something very bad could soon happen.

“He (Saunders) seemed to be agitated. I thought he was going to shoot him in the head,” she told jurors during the first day of testimony at Saunders’ trial.

Mark J. Saunders, 35

Saunders, 35, is facing a number of felony charges including aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, home invasion robbery with a firearm, fleeing or eluding a law enforcement officer, possession of a bulletproof vest, grand theft-auto and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

As the trial got under way Tuesday morning, Jan. 24, the six-member jury heard how Saunders broke into the home of a former deputy with the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) on May 12, 2015. From that home he reportedly stole an OCSO polo shirt and hat, along with a bulletproof vest.

He then walked across the street and into the Davis home where Albert was sitting at his computer, which is located near his home’s front door.

“He (Saunders) didn’t knock. He just walked right in,” assistant state attorney Don Richardson told jurors during his opening statement.

When asked, Mr. Davis testified he heard the front door open. But, he didn’t think anything about it because he thought it was his son coming home from school.

Then, when he looked up, there was a man standing before him wearing an OCSO shirt and cap and a bulletproof vest. The man was also armed with a handgun.

“Why did you walk into my house?” Mr. Davis asked the intruder.

Saunders then put the gun to the man’s head and responded: “This is why.”

“I will shoot you in the back of the head if you do anything,” Saunders allegedly said to Mr. Davis.

Saunders then demanded the keys to the blue 2008 Ford F-250 pickup truck sitting in the driveway of the Davis home. The truck belonged to Frank DeCarlo III who was at the home spending time with his girlfriend Naomi Stevens, Mr. and Mrs. Davis’ daughter.

After he was got the keys to the truck, Saunders sped away.

Not willing to lose his $30,000 truck, Mr. DeCarlo grabbed the keys to his girlfriend’s car and gave chase. That chase continued along U.S. 441 North to Orange Avenue (S.R. 68), where Saunders allegedly turned in an easterly direction.

It was at this point OCSO Deputy Lieutenant Lester Yeates got involved.

The veteran deputy told jurors during direct examination by assistant state attorney Ashley Albright that he was returning to Okeechobee County after taking some OCSO radios to Vero Beach when he heard dispatcher disseminate information about the stolen truck.

He soon saw the blue truck.

With his emergency lights flashing and the siren on his white OCSO F-150 pickup blaring, Lt. Yeates started to chase the blue pickup. When asked, the lieutenant said the top speed on his half-ton pickup is in the mid-90s, “… and he was pulling away from me.”

For safety’s sake, Lt. Yeates slowed his vehicle but tried to stay close enough to keep the blue Super Duty in sight.

When Saunders reached the Triple S Ranch he left the paved highway and turned onto a private drive. Lt. Yeates, along with then-Detective Shane Snyder who had joined in the chase, both followed Saunders down that drive.

Saunders passed a barn, slammed on his brakes and turned the blue Ford so that its passenger side was facing Lt. Yeates.

The lieutenant stopped and for a split second, the two men sat there.

Lt. Yeates then told the jurors how Saunders gunned the engine of the blue pickup, which threw dirt and sod into the air with the spinning rear tires as Saunders started driving toward the deputy. Soon, he plowed into the front of the white OCSO pickup.

“He hit me and the airbag deployed. I was fighting the airbag and I was trying to get out of the truck,” Lt. Yeates testified under direct examination.

“I was able to get clear of my truck while he was still accelerating and pushing me backward.”

According to testimony Saunders pushed the lieutenant’s truck backward some 15 feet.

Fearing for his life, Lt. Yeates fired his .40 caliber Glock handgun at the blue Ford. Between Lt. Yeates and now-Lieutenant Snyder, 10 rounds were fired into the F-250. None of those rounds struck Saunders.

Saunders gave in and slowly stepped out of the truck. As soon as he did, he was taken to the ground and handcuffed.

Lt. Yeates then looked into the cab of the truck and there, on the driver’s seat next to where Saunders was sitting, was a semi-automatic handgun. That gun, testified Lt. Yeates, was not loaded.

The lieutenant went on to tell jurors the front ends of the two pickups were locked together.

“Two tow trucks were used to pull them apart,” explained the lieutenant.
Lt. Yeates told jurors he only received some minor injuries from the collision.

Testimony will continue Wednesday morning in courtroom A of the Okeechobee Judicial Center. Circuit Court Judge Dan Vaughn is presiding.
Saunders is being represented by Alexander Nelson from the District 19 public defender’s office.

Original story   “County jail inmate caught trying to escape”

Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News

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