Lawmen are searching for a burglar who was caught inside a Pine Crest subdivision home Saturday who apparently targeted his victim by stealing personal information out of her vehicle while in Billings earlier in the day.
A 911 burglary-in-progress call was received at 11:47 a.m. by a Ponderosa Ridge Road resident who said she came home to find an unknown man in her home who fled towards the rest area, according to Stillwater County Sheriff's dispatch records.
The door of a Jeep at the home was open and a 44 magnum handgun was missing. The man was described as having black hair, tall with a slender build wearing a green hoodie and a brown cap. Shortly thereafter, the resident reported seeing a black pickup truck drive by slowly "as if they were trying to pick up the runner," according to dispatch records.
Deputies, Columbus police, Montana Highway Patrol troopers and two Fish, Wildlife & Park wardens responded and subdivision residents were notified of the unfolding situation, said Stillwater County Undersheriff Chip Kem. The road, as well as the westbound rest area off I-90, were manned to monitor traffic. Sweet Grass, Carbon and Yellowstone Counties were notified as well. The area was searched by a FWP K9 but turned up nothing.
The woman told deputies that while she had been in church in Billings earlier that morning, her car window had been broken and she believed her vehicle registration, purse and garage door opener had been taken.
"We suspect it is the same person," said Kem, adding that there have been a couple similar incidents in Billings involving vehicle break-ins leading to residential burglaries.
The woman's purse was found this morning at 8:37 a.m. in a bathroom at Heritage Park in Columbus.
In the middle of the search Sunday, Laurel officials passed along information about an incident earlier that day involving a man in a black pickup truck who had been caught rummaging through a vehicle and fled when confronted by the owner. A shotgun was stolen in that incident. Authorities don't know if they two incidents are related, but continue to investigate several leads.
"Lock your vehicles and homes and report any suspicious activity to us," said Kem.