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Erik Burgess, Published December 27 2013

Truck theft leaves 97-year-old man feeling 'lucky to be alive'

DILWORTH – A 97-year-old man here says he’s lucky to be alive after another man allegedly stole the truck he was sitting in and tried to take it on a drunken joy ride Sunday evening.

Johnie Beckerleg, 97, said he was waiting in his son’s pickup in the Wal-Mart parking lot here when all of the sudden, a man jerked the door open. The keys were still in the ignition, and Beckerleg feared the worst.

“He tried to pull me out, and I fought him as best I could,” said Beckerleg, who normally needs a walker to get around.

That’s when the man sped off into the parking lot, with Beckerleg still inside, fighting to get free. The truck swerved and almost hit another car in the parking lot, Beckerleg said.

Beckerleg later told investigators that he believed the man was drunk or “on something,” according to the police report filed with the criminal complaint in Clay County District Court.

“I figured when he got (the vehicle) straightened out, he was gonna step on it … and I had the door unlocked, and I kicked the door open and jumped,” Beckerleg said. “How I could do it, I have no idea.”

According to the criminal complaint, the man accused of taking the vehi-cle is Joshua Stanley Fox, 32, of Moorhead.

Once Beckerleg jumped from the vehicle, Fox drove away toward south Moor-head, allegedly crashing into two other cars before stopping at the Holiday Station at 3475 28th Ave. S., according to the police report. The truck had a deflated tire and a hole in the passenger door, the report states.

That’s where police were able to arrest Fox. On Friday, he was still in Clay County Jail.

Fox has been charged with theft of a motor vehicle and criminal vehicular operation, both felonies. He also faces gross misdemeanor counts for driving while intoxicated, and other misdemeanor-level traffic violations.

The police report states that Fox was “very belligerent” after being arrested, and that he was slurring his words and had trouble balancing. Officers found his blood alcohol content to be 0.22, almost three times the legal limit of 0.08.

Fox told police that he had been drinking beer while watching football, but had to go to Wal-Mart to buy more beer, according to the report.

Police were eventually able to connect the stolen truck to two other hit-and-run accidents that day. In one, Fox is accused of rear-ending another vehicle with the truck, as well as running a red light at “a high rate of speed” and being hit by another car, the police report states.

Fox has a lengthy rap sheet in Clay County dating back to 1997, including a conviction for making terroristic threats in 2008, a felony, and obstruction in 2012, a misdemeanor, according to Clay County District Court records.

Fox’s next court appearance is set for Jan. 3.

As for Beckerleg, he sustained a dislocated shoulder and a scraped left hand. His caregiver, Karen Peschel, said he spent a day and a half in the hospital but is now recovering at home.

“I’m doing pretty good for what I went through,” Beckerleg said. “I’m lucky to be alive. After 97 years and to still come out of that? I think I’ve done wonderful.”

Peschel said passersby who helped Beckerleg after he jumped from the truck gave him two blankets, and that he wants to return them and thank the people.

Both blankets were fleece, one with a St. Louis Rams NFL logo and the other with an evergreen forest on it.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518