Drew Pickard loves his Subaru Impreza.
“He had it in storage for two years while he worked on it,” said Derek Spring, “He put a whole new engine in the thing — just got it running recently.”
It was in that freshly rebuilt Impreza that Pickard drove to a house on Cady Street in the city Friday night to deliver food from Market Street Pizza. He left it running while he made the drop, just long enough for an intoxicated pedestrian to leap behind the wheel and peel out.
“Drew loved that car,” Spring said.
According to information released by the Johnstown Police Department, officers first heard of the incident when a local man witnessed a blue Impreza slam into a snowbank on Fourth Avenue. The witness saw a guy get out of the car and flee on foot.
Officers arrived at the crashed car shortly before 10 p.m., at the same time a call came in reporting a stolen car. They tracked footprints through the snow, arresting 25-year-old John Defrancis of Ephratah within minutes. He confessed on the spot, according to police.
The department news release reads like a fairly regular car theft, but Spring’s account paints a more dramatic picture of events.
Spring manages Market Street Pizza, and occasionally hires Pickard to run deliveries. “He’s more of a friend of mine,” Spring said. “He doesn’t even really work for me anymore. He just went Friday because he was going to that house anyway. They were friends.”
Spring said Pickard needed to drop off a borrowed DVD and figured bringing along a pizza and order of hot wings wasn’t a huge inconvenience. He was chatting when Defrancis allegedly climbed into his car.
After two years of tinkering on his pride and joy, driving a crummy old Honda to save money, Pickard wasn’t about to let the Impreza go.
In the stress of the situation Defrancis apparently bungled a gear shift and stalled the car, allowing a sprinting, shouting Pickard to nearly catch him before revving away.
Luckily, Pickard had left his cellphone in the car. He ran a few blocks to his South Melcher Street apartment, got on his computer, tracked the phone and called the cops with location in hand.
By the time his call got through, the Impreza was already deep in a snowbank, with officers on the scene.
“He must have been going really fast,” Spring said. “He hit a median and spun it off the road.”
Spring said Monday the car was out of a police impound lot, reunited with Pickard. The front bumper is in bad shape, but the rest of the car got away relatively unscathed.
Defrancis on the other hand is facing charges of fourth-degree grand larceny, a felony, along with four traffic violations for allegedly driving too fast in the wrong lane and without a license.