Smartphone app helps owner and police track stolen car

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by CRAIG CIVALE

WFAA

Posted on December 27, 2010 at 10:58 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 28 at 6:58 PM

NEWS 8 EXCLUSIVE

JUSTIN, Texas — Smartphone apps can do just about anything these days.

That includes watching thieves drive off in your car.

A North Texas man used that technology to help police find his stolen SUV. Then the situation got much more dangerous when the stolen vehicle hit an officer and took off for a second time.

Whit Snell's 2005 Land Rover crashed in Wise County on Christmas Day. It had been stolen from his friend's driveway in Justin earlier that morning.

"You do the old walk out to the lot and your car is gone," he said.

And so was his phone. He had accidentally left it inside the car.

But that actually was a good thing. It meant Snell could use an app called "Find My iPhone" which taps into the phone's internal GPS to pinpoint its location.

It shows the phone's owner where it is and sends an alert.

But in Snell's case, his phone was on the run.

"My phone was moving at 70 miles an hour down the highway," he said.

He tracked it to a small service station in Justin, then called police and that led them right to it.

But the drama wasn't over yet.

As the Northlake police officer took Rodney Womack and David Gibbs into custody, investigators said Womack fought back and managed to get inside the stolen SUV, then reportedly ran over the officer as he tried to stop him.

Dispatchers went back to the app.

"She called me back frantically and said, 'I need you to track your car again — right now!'" Snell recalled. "She said, 'Stay on the phone and tell me where he is, he just ran over my officer.'"

Snell followed the blue tracking dot on his computer all the way to Wise County, where police caught up with the SUV and it later crashed.

The officer has two broken ribs from being run over, but is expected to recover.

And Whit Snell has uncovered another interesting tool in fighting crime.

E-mail ccivale@wfaa.com

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