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Open Line Saves 2 From Intruders

Woman drops phone but doesn't hang up. Three thousand miles away, a relative calls 911.

August 17, 2003|From Associated Press

Grace Richardson believes that she and her husband survived when two armed men burst into their Virginia home because the intruders interrupted a phone call with her sister in California.

On the evening of Aug. 10, Richardson was talking to Betty Gates, who lives near Fresno, when the gunmen arrived and held Richardson and her husband, Marvin, at gunpoint.

Grace Richardson put the telephone down but didn't hang up. What Gates overheard on the other end of the line terrified her.

"I heard someone coming in the door, and then the dogs started barking and barking," she said. "I kept on trying to get Grace to talk to me, but she wouldn't answer. Then I heard someone yelling at the dogs to shut up, and I didn't recognize the voice."

Gates handed the phone to her husband, Darrell, who heard the Richardsons pleading for their lives.

He hung up, dialed 911 and told a California Highway Patrol dispatcher about the situation unfolding 3,000 miles away. The dispatcher connected Gates with the Pittsylvania County Sheriff's Department in Chatham, which sent Deputy Ben Shelton speeding to the Richardsons' home.

The intruders fled when Shelton arrived. The deputy was able to catch and arrest Martinez Otero Witcher, 23, of nearby Gretna, who was charged with four felonies -- breaking and entering, robbery and two firearms violations. The other man escaped, and authorities were still searching for him Saturday.

The Richardsons suffered minor injuries, said Maj. Gary Goodson of the Sheriff's Department.

"I didn't think I was going to live any longer," Grace Richardson said, adding that at the time she had no idea how law enforcement had been alerted and was shocked to see the deputy arrive. "They got here in four minutes, which I think is a miracle. That was God's way of saving our lives."

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