Staff Reports

A rural Columbus homeowner held off two burglary suspects at gunpoint early Saturday until police could arrive to arrest them and a third individual who was later found hiding in a vehicle.

Eric Simo, 44, a southern Bartholomew County landscaper and greenhouse owner, said he went outside about 6 a.m. Saturday to get produce from his greenhouse to take to the Indianapolis Winter Farmers Market, which was scheduled to start a few hours later.

When heading out his front door, Simo said he could see a dark-colored pickup truck, visible due to an overhead light by the barn on his property at 1270 E. County Road 450 South.

Simo and his wife, Edith, operate Southern Crossroads Garden Center from their property in Wayne Township.

Instead of grabbing spinach and salad greens growing in one of his two greenhouses, as he originally intended to do, Simo said he went back into the house for his Glock 9 mm pistol, loaded with a full magazine of 15 bullets.

“As I went out, somebody exited my (Toyota)4Runner,” Simo said. “As I was running out toward the truck, they put it in drive and were starting to pull out. She (the pickup driver) swerved and tried to run me over as she was trying to get out.”

Simo said he had heated words with the female pickup truck driver.

“I told her to stop and she lunged forward again, trying to get me to move out of the way. I jumped backwards and pulled my pistol out and aimed it at her,” Simo said.

At that point, Carr went to the ground as Simo directed, he said.

“As she was exiting the vehicle and I was holding her at bay, I noticed two other people behind the vehicle moving toward me. I instructed the two men to get on the ground. One did,” Simo said.

Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department deputies, who arrived within minutes, found the second male hiding in a second vehicle the suspects had, a silver sedan, Simo said.

Deputies arrested the three suspects, all of Columbus:

Derek Sarver, 31, of 600 Franklin St.

Natasha Carr, 28, of 734 7th St.

Stephen McFarland, 28 of 9372 E. County Road 500 North

The three were taken to the Bartholomew County Jail, where they will be held for at least 72 hours, facing preliminary charges of burglary, theft and auto theft, according to the sheriff’s department.

The pickup truck was believed to have been stolen earlier Saturday from another location in Columbus, deputies said.

When confronting the suspects, Simo said he didn’t know whether any of them were armed, although officers later told him that a gun was found in one of the suspects’ two vehicles.

While the standoff was occurring, the Simos’ two children — ages 8 and 10 — were sleeping inside their home.

“Honey, you are awesome,” Simo recalled his wife saying to him afterward.

“It could have been crazy,” said Eric Simo, who felt a significant adrenaline rush as this was all going down.

“I hope the community stands with me. We just all need to stand up together and stop crime, and help our police officers out. We’re having an awful, awful drug epidemic in our community. We have to let people know that we are not going to stand for this any longer,” he said.

Simo, who described himself as an avid hunter, said he got his concealed-carry permit about a year ago after becoming concerned about the rash of crimes linked to the opioid epidemic in Bartholomew County, across Indiana and the nation.

His wife, Edith, 43, also got her permit after the two of them completed firearms training.

No shots were fired during the incident, “thankfully,” Simo said.

“Responsible gun owners pray they will never have to use their weapon. But without it, I could be dead by now. And my children would be without a father,” he said.

Simo said he hopes it’s the first and last time he has to draw his pistol during an emergency.

And he praised police for their quick response.

Sheriff’s department deputies Teancum Clark, Jessica Pendleton and Jon Lanning were first to respond to the incident, followed by fellow deputy Dane Duke and detective Will Kinman.

Assisting agencies included Columbus Police Department, which is investigating the auto theft, the sheriff’s department said.

“Amazing job,” he said of the police work.

After wrapping up matters with police, Simo did take his spinach and salad greens for the farmers market in Indianapolis, arriving at about 11 a.m.

“I missed the (market’s) morning rush,” Simo said, shrugging off the fact that he had to come back home with produce that he’d hoped to sell.

“I’ll take it down to the Love Chapel (food pantry) on Monday and donate it,” he said.

None of the equipment from his landscape company or other items that the suspects grabbed made it off the property, Simo said.

“Even my old, dirty Carhartt bibs,” he said. “I’m blown away that people are that desperate.”

After Simo finished up at the farmers market, he went to his scheduled landscaping job Saturday afternoon on Grandview Lake.

“Now I’m tired,” Simo said about 5:30 p.m. during a telephone interview, more than 12 hours after he had gotten up for what turned out to be an intense day.

Pull Quote

“She (the pickup driver) swerved and tried to run me over as she was trying to get out.”

— Greenhouse owner Eric Simo, drawing his pistol on a female driver during an attempted burglary