John Bernath slept soundly Friday as a suspected car thief ran into his second-floor apartment and hid in his bedroom closet. A police radio's squawking, not the intruder's presence, wakened him.
"I went out to see what the commotion was," Bernath recalled. "At first they told me to get back in and close the door."
So he did.
As Bernath watched the commotion from the kitchen window, the stranger quietly remained in hiding.
Meanwhile, police were conducting a door-to-door search of the 12-unit complex at 6651 Sunset Way, said St. Petersburg Beach Sgt. Todd Kirchgraber. Witnesses had told police that a man the officers were chasing had run upstairs, he said.
Police had seen the man, later identified as Donald Lawrence Zunner, 18, driving a car similar to one reported stolen in Dunedin.
When police tried to pull him over about 2:20 p.m., Zunner allegedly sped off, then dumped the car and ran, Kirchgraber said.
It was by fluke that the Bernaths' apartment screen door, directly at the top of the stairs, was unlocked.
"The wife went down to the beach and I don't know when she's coming back and I don't like to have her locked out," Bernath, 75, said. "Normally I would lock the screen door."
By the time the police search got to his apartment, Bernath said he realized what might have happened.
"I told them you ought to go in and check this out here," he said.
Three times police yelled a warning to the man, if he was in there, to surrender, Kirchgraber said. Nothing happened.
Police Officer Lewis Smith and police dog Arno entered.
"The dog alerted that there was someone else in the apartment, and indeed Mr. Zunner was hiding in the bedroom closet," Kirchgraber said. "Mr. Zunner refused to surrender. He got bit."
The dog bite was minor, police said. Zunner, of 7501 142nd Ave. N, Apt. 365, Largo, was arrested 27 minutes after the chase began. He was charged with grand theft auto and burglary in connection with the Dunedin case, and with fleeing and eluding a police officer and not having a valid driver's license. He was taken to the Pinellas County Jail.