“I’m in the wrong house!”
That’s what the intruder was pleading as my wife stood a few feet away with a shotgun aimed at his gut.
My heart was still racing as I took a deep breath and tried to respond to the understatement of a lifetime.
“Yes.” I said. “You are definitely in the wrong house.”
My wife, Shelley, said that if she had been alone the guy probably would have been dead. No questions asked.
And I believe her.
“Think about it,” she said later. “A woman alone and a man breaking in ... I wouldn’t have had any choice.”
The fact that Shelley is a former police officer might have saved the guy’s life. She didn’t panic.
Couple that with an incredibly fast and professional response by Plumas County Sheriff’s Deputy Tom Klundby, and it was the intruder’s lucky night.
But we sure didn’t feel lucky when we were jolted awake last Tuesday at 1:30 a.m. Our dog was barking at a man walking through our dark bedroom.
I thought I was dreaming.
The intruder was talking very fast. But I couldn’t make out what he was saying.
Was he talking to his partner in crime? Was he armed? Was he telling us to stay in bed or he would kill us? I had no idea.
With no lights on and our small husky on his heels, the guy bounded down the hall, through the kitchen and into our utility room.
“Holy sh**!” I said, as I jumped out of bed.
“There’s a guy in our house!” I said to Shelley as I stumbled out to the hallway. In retrospect, that probably wasn’t the brightest move on my part. If the guy had a gun, my story would have ended right there.
I could hear the intruder banging into things in the pitch-black utility room. I ran through the kitchen, closed the door behind him, and locked it.
Shelley quickly grabbed the gun and called 911.
For the next 10 minutes, we grilled the intruder behind the door. He spoke quickly and nervously and his answers were all over the map. He was obviously high on something.
I told him my wife had a gun aimed right at the door. I tried to emphasize how important it was that he not even attempt to touch the door. I told him my wife would shoot him. I think he could tell I wasn’t kidding.
At that point, his tone quickly changed. He told us his name was “Billy” and he was staying in a cabin near ours. He said he walked into our house by mistake.
We knew he wasn’t one of our guests at Camp Layman. We asked him to describe the place he was staying. The description he made up wasn’t even close to matching any of our neighbors’ cabins.
I asked him if he had been drinking. “I had a couple beers,” he said.
“Anything else?” I asked.
“Not that I can remember,” he said.
I looked at Shelley, who was standing firm with the gun still aimed in the direction of the intruder’s voice coming from the other side of the door. We both rolled our eyes.
Our fear had turned more toward skepticism. We weren’t buying the guy’s story, but we didn’t want to provoke him. We knew it was probably best for all of us to keep him as calm as possible until the police arrived.
Considering where we live, we figured help wouldn’t arrive for about a half-hour. It turned out to be 15 minutes.
I lied to the intruder and told him we believed his story. “I’m sure we will all laugh about this tomorrow, Billy.”
But I also told him he would have to tell his story to the police, who were on the way.
“Oh yeah, definitely. I don’t blame you,” he said. He repeatedly said how sorry he was.
The intruder said he knew he could escape if he wanted to. There was a door in a room behind the utility room that led outside.
I’ve been teased and criticized mercilessly for what I did next. The guy kept saying he was scared and hot and thirsty ... so I gave him a Coke.
“Billy, there is a refrigerator behind you. Help yourself,” I said, as Shelley shook her head.
“But I just heard your wife say ‘no’,” Billy said sheepishly. He knew I wasn’t the one with my finger on the trigger.
“Billy, it’s OK,” I said. “Turn on the light switch next to the door and get yourself a Coke.”
So he did. Then he said he was going to get down on the floor. We tried to keep him talking so we could be sure he didn’t move.
After a few minutes, I made a follow-up 911 call to make sure the police were on their way.
About that time, Billy told Shelley he was scared and bolted out the back door.
To our amazement, Billy didn’t make a run for it. Looking very confused, he walked around to the front of our house and sat down on the walkway.
Moments later, Klundby arrived. I think my blood pressure dropped 100 points when I saw the deputy calmly approach Billy, ask him a few questions, and place him in handcuffs.
Klundby was soon joined by Sergeant Wingfield, Detective Beatley and a CHP officer.
A field sobriety test confirmed our suspicion that Billy was probably high on meth. He told Klundby that he didn’t remember driving from Reno to Camp Layman Road.
He was arrested and transported to jail. After he left, some of our guests said Billy tried to get into their cabin before he made it into ours. They said he was throwing rocks onto their roof. “He said there was a big cat up there,” a guest said.
I attended Billy’s arraignment in court two days later. I almost felt sorry for the man.
Billy is no stranger to the Plumas County Jail. He has a long history of drug abuse, but not violence. He’s been in and out of prison many times in his 42 years.
He’s behind bars, but he also needs treatment and counseling. I hope people like Billy will soon have access to those kinds of services again in Plumas County.
The evening following the incident, Sheriff Hagwood personally called to see if we were doing OK.
The sheriff sounded genuinely concerned. I think he almost takes incidents like this personally. He has said publicly how important it is to him that county residents feel safe enough to leave their doors unlocked.
He apologized for what happened to us.
We told him there was absolutely no apology necessary. We said we appreciated the sheriff department’s quick and professional response. We were impressed by the way Deputy Klundby handled the situation.
And we are not going to start dead-bolting all of our doors. I truly believe this was a rare occurrence.
That said, Billy is lucky to be alive. If he had walked into a different house in Plumas County, he probably would be dead.
I’m pretty sure he knows that.