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Plow driver gave chase following man's scuffle with officer outside Epping Wal-Mart

By Jason Schreiber
Union Leader Correspondent

February 14. 2014 8:38PM

EPPING — Laura Barker was behind the wheel of her monstrous Kodiak 4500 plow truck when she saw an officer standing against the wall outside Wal-Mart.

"I could see the officer was clearly waiting for someone to come out," she said.

Barker was plowing the Wal-Mart parking lot Thursday afternoon when Epping police Officer Russell Hero showed up to catch a shoplifting suspect in the middle of Thursday's snowstorm.

The owner of Barker Backhoe in Exeter, Barker knew something was up so she kept her eye on the scene. She saw Hero attempt to nab the suspect, later identified as Joshua Peno, but she jumped into action when she saw Peno dart across the front of the parking lot with Hero chasing after him.

Barker quickly drove her truck around the parking lot to try to catch up to Peno and block him.

"I thought maybe I could at least slow him down enough for the officer to catch up to him," she said.

But before she could intervene, Hero had caught up to Peno and the two were wrestling on the ground.

Wal-Mart's security cameras recorded the scuffle between Peno and Hero.

As Hero tried to arrest him, the video shows Peno slipping out of his sweatshirt, which is thrown to the ground.

Peno allegedly struck Hero in the head before escaping Hero's grasp and racing toward a getaway car.

That's when Barker thought she might have a chance to back her truck up quickly enough to block the car, but she was too late.

A female driving the car — a 1995 blue Ford Taurus — was able to get by her and fled the parking lot.

But Barker still refused to give up. She drove after the car and followed it to the traffic lights at the exit to Route 125, but she was unable to keep up with the car, and but by that time more police arrived and the hunt for Peno began.

Peno, 22, of Nottingham, was later arrested in Derry and was charged with theft, resisting arrest and simple assault.

He is accused of attempting to steal $1,172 worth of DVDs from Wal-Mart.

While Peno initially got away, Hero was able to remember the number on the vehicle's temporary license plate.

With help from the Rockingham County Sheriff's department and the Rockingham County jail, police were able to identify Peno as the suspect.

Peno also had active felony arrest warrants for theft issued by the Concord Police Department, Newman said. He was arraigned on those charges Friday and was expected to be turned over to Epping police to face arraignment on their charges.

Police are also working to identify the female driving the getaway car.

Hero wasn't injured and did not require medical treatment.

"Luckily Officer Hero did not sustain any serious injuries," Police Chief Michael Wallace said.

While she wasn't able to stop them, police praised Barker for attempting to use her plow truck to help out.

"We certainly appreciate her effort to assist us," police Capt. Jason Newman said.

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