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Frank pleads to vehicle theft in case involving police chase, gas leak

WILLMAR — Darien Cole Frank, 19, of New London, pleaded guilty Friday to a felony charge of theft for his role in a Oct. 25 incident that involved the theft of a motor vehicle, fleeing from Willmar police officers and causing a gas leak that required the partial evacuation of Regency Estates West.

Frank will be sentenced Wednesday in Kandiyohi County District Court by District Judge Michael J. Thompson. As part of a plea agreement, two misdemeanor charges of motor vehicle tampering will be dismissed.

Luis Gerardo Nieves, 16, of Willmar, pleaded guilty Nov. 19 to juvenile charges of felony motor vehicle theft and gross misdemeanor theft. His dispositional hearing is also on Wednesday.

Felony charges against juveniles aged 16 or 17 are public record.

According to the charges against the pair, Willmar police officers were called around 1:20 a.m. Oct. 25 to the 800 block of Northwood Court Northwest. The caller reported a robbery, which was determined to be a case of theft from a motor vehicle. The two suspects had fled in a blue van headed northbound toward the county fairgrounds.

The residents reporting the crime said the suspects took a $700 speaker from a vehicle.

Two Willmar police officers, in two separate squad cars, observed the van heading westbound on Gorton Avenue and pursued it to Regency West. The officers pursued the vehicle for at least three minutes inside the trailer park. The vehicle went through yards and a field at speeds of 30 to 35 mph. The chase ended when the driver, identified as Nieves, lost control of the van. The van spun out and struck one of the police squad cars.

During the pursuit, the vehicle struck a gas meter on an empty lot at the trailer park, causing a leak, according to information from the Police Department. Approximately half of the trailer park’s residences were evacuated until about 4 a.m. the next day. No injuries were reported.

Both suspects were taken into custody. Nieves told officers he was walking around looking for open vehicles and found the van with the keys inside. He said he then took the vehicle. He picked up Frank on Seventh Street and said Frank took the speaker from the second vehicle. The van was identified as stolen from the 400 block of 13th Street Northwest.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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