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The Daily Tar Heel

Police arrest man for Horace Williams plane theft

After a three-day search, a man was arrested Thursday afternoon on charges of stealing a plane from Horace Williams airport.

Curtis Rene Mellott, 46, of Mel Oak Drive in Chapel Hill, was served a felony larceny warrant after his arrest Thursday by the Department of Public safety. DPS spokesman Randy Young said Alamance County will also charge him with possession of stolen property.

The small, privately-owned plane was stolen between 9 p.m. Monday and 6 a.m. Tuesday from Horace Williams Airport and later found crashed on Wildlife Club Road off of Highway 87 just outside Graham, University spokesman Randy Young said.

Randy Jones, public information officer for the Alamance County Sheriff’s Department, said both Orange County and Alamance counties issued warrants for Mellott’s arrest in relation to the theft.

Jones said he could not comment on how authorities determined that Mellott might have stolen the plane because the information is part of an ongoing investigation.

Young said it was unclear whether Mellott acted alone, and the investigation by both DPS and the Alamance County Sheriff’s Department will continue.

Mellott has visible injuries and will undergo a physical examination, Young said.

“There were several abrasions, but that’s something that physicians will check out just as a matter of due course,” he said.

He said once authorities have determined that Mellott has no residual health concerns, he will be transported to the Orange County magistrate’s office in Hillsborough, where bond and a court date will be set.

Jones said that after the Civil Air Patrol responded to the aircraft’s early-morning emergency beacon and then located the crashed and abandoned plane Tuesday, the agency contacted Larry Warren, the owner of the Durham company in whose name the plane is registered.

At that point, it became clear that the plane had been stolen, Jones said.

Jones said the Civil Air Patrol alerted the Alamance County Sheriff’s Department when it found the plane, and the office commenced a grid search and a canine search for the pilot around 12:45 p.m.

Although that search was unsuccessful, Jones said a tip Wednesday afternoon allowed authorities to track Mellott to Durham.

“We almost got him,” he said. But he said that by the time police arrived, Mellott had left the location.

DPS located and arrested Mellott after receiving information Thursday that he had returned to his home in Chapel Hill.

The investigation into the crash itself will be completed by the Federal Aviation Authority, Jones said.

Paul J. Burke, Jr., manager of Horace Williams Airport, confirmed that the tail number on the stolen plane is N492ST.

That plane is a 200 Piper Aircraft single-engine aircraft, according to the Federal Aviation Administration website. It is registered to Larry Warren’s company, LFW Investments LLC.

Young said there has been little concern in the past about the security of Horace Williams. But he said this incident could change how DPS looks at airport security.

“We will certainly be looking into it,” he said. “It is a small airport with no tower. Owners are responsible for the security of their own aircrafts.”

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