A manhunt lasting a little over six hours during rain and lightening culminated near the edge of a tree farm in Stephens County Tuesday night after law enforcement apprehended a suspect who has been dubbed as the “sandwich bandit” for alleged crimes committed in other portions of Oklahoma.
While the search for Andrew Blandeon Earls, age 27, began in Cleveland County on Sept. 22, it pushed into Stephens County Sept. 28. Earls, according to Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office, had two active felony warrants and was believed to be a suspect in multiple burglaries in the area.
His hallmark? Quite literally making himself at home. Reports indicate Earls allegedly breaks into houses, vandalizes them and makes a mess, steals property such as weapons, and finishes the ordeal by making himself something to eat or drinking their beer, according to Mendi Brandon, Public Information Officer for Cleveland County Sherrifs Office, as reported by KFOR. A victim who spoke with KFOR also reported Earls to have allegedly used their shower and slept in their child’s bed.
According to Stephens County Sheriff Wayne McKinney, the search for Earls included help from U.S. Marshals, Stephens County Sheriff’s Office, Duncan Police, the District Six Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, Oklahoma Highway Patrol and a private citizen, and began after the execution of a warrant for first degree burglary out of Woodward County.
“We’ve been looking for this guy,” for a couple of weeks, McKinney said. While they don’t know his permanent residence and Earls moves between counties, they did know he stayed in the area sometimes.
“The U.S. Marshals are very good at what they do,” McKinney said, noting they helped with the Balthazar Sanchez-Garcia case dating back to 2016 which included extradition of the suspect, now sentenced, from Mexico. “Yesterday, they received a tip that the individual (Earls) may be in this area and they asked us to help them along with DPD, and that they were going to try to go serve the warrant on him and arrest him.”
The warrant, McKinney said, included a felony first degree burglary warrant out of Woodward County. First degree burglary means someone was in the home at the time of the crime and McKinney said those are “extremely dangerous” situations with a good chance of someone, possibly a homeowner, “being killed.”
“That’s why this guy was dangerous,” he said. “He targets stealing weapons. With weapons being stolen, that tells you there’s a good chance he’s going to be armed. And he was getting bolder, and bolder, and bolder with some of the burglaries.”
On top of that first degree burglary in Woodward County, Earls also faces seven counts of second and third degree burglaries, has a firearms violation and is accused of possession of stolen property — all in the same county.
McKinney said in Cleveland County, Earls is the suspect at the center of “multiple burglaries” with active investigations going on right now — KFOR reported over 30 suspected at this time.
Law enforcement went to serve the warrant on Tuesday at a residence in Duncan and Stephens County. Ultimately, the manhunt played out between N and 5th Street from Elk down to Plato.
“As luck would have it, he is pretty good at hiding. He escaped out the back door, one of the marshals and a couple of deputies got into a foot pursuit into that heavy brush,” McKinney said. “They couldn’t stay up with him and lost him in the brush area but we had enough officers from OHP, Duncan, the Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Marshals who were able to set that perimeter up and get it shut down to where he’s not going to get out of this perimeter.”
McKinney said that kicked off the stopwatch on the hunt at 2:15 p.m. when the hunt started until 8:27 p.m. when they called the suspect as apprehended.
“We were in the process of pushing the area, sweeping the area — so you put a bunch of officers in and you start pushing through the brush,” McKinney said. “It was a tedious job doing that because of how thick it was, with dogs and stuff like that.”
That’s where the help of the private citizen — a businessman who wishes to not be named — came into play, McKinney said.
“We had a citizen that went above and beyond what his citizen duty would be,” McKinney said.
That above and beyond was the citizen donating the use of his private helicopter to the hunt.
McKinney said the person reached out and said, “‘hey, if you guys need an aircraft, we can give you one.’”
“OHP’s are down, we didn’t have an extra pilot that could help me fly this one (that SCSO has). (The private bird) had one of our people in there with the pilot,” McKinney said. “And so they started their systematic search of the area and that’s when we started jumping him. He jumped a couple of times before they actually saw him and they were down, low on fuel, and they saw him at the tree farm.”
McKinney said the craft called they were almost to “bingo fuel” — meaning empty — and that’s when eyes got put on the suspect.
“All of a sudden, ‘we’ve got him, we’ve got him,’ — because a suspicious person call came in, some citizen said there was somebody sleeping in his barn or his garage — well that was him,” McKinney said. “And then the helicopter sees him before he runs out of that barn. So that’s why our perimeter shifted a little bit to get him in there because they assured us he did not get out of that tree farm, that he was in that perimeter somewhere down to Plato.”
And while the perimeter continued moving northbound, McKinney knew they were close on the suspect’s scent.
“We knew, and that’s why we didn’t give up, we knew that he did not escape from our containment area,” he said. “We had a really nice perimeter set up and he didn’t get out of it.”
The individual loaning his helicopter and pilot then offered the use of a flare drone with a thermal radar on it.
“He knew how to fly it, did a good job,” sheriff said. “He’s the one that found the guy. I tell you, that made my night.”
McKinney said they watched as he drove the drone until he motioned at the screen and said, “look at that.” The screen showed a heat signature on the ground and it appeared as if the suspect was hiding in the brush. A few minutes later, he jumps out of the brush and runs toward the fence. Law enforcement nabbed him at that time, McKinney said.
“With that many agencies in there working on the same thing — I’ve been on a lot of them and there’s always a breakdown in something,” McKinney said. “Yesterday, I couldn’t be more proud of all of them. Everybody worked together, there was good communications …. People held their perimeters, they didn’t give their perimeters up.”
And aside from law enforcement working well together, McKinney said he takes great pride in the community member who stepped up and helped, despite rain and how long it took.
“That helicopter is expensive and to tell us to let them fly as long as we needed — he stayed out there while it was raining, flying this drone, he stayed right with us, didn’t want to get in his car — I just, I just can’t thank him enough,” McKinney said.
No one was hurt during the process, including the suspect.
McKinney said Earls would move to Woodward County now where he will see a judge and noted they searched some areas Wednesday morning to look and see if anything such as weapons or drugs had been stashed.
And while he isn’t charged here yet, Earls does face some consequences out of this area.
“We’re suspecting him in a few crimes, not only in the county, but in the City of Duncan. There’s not any charges on those yet,” McKinney said, “but he is on probation here, which will probably be revoked and was on a gun related charge — possession of a firearm type deal after a felony.”