ST. STEPHEN, SC (WCSC) - Berkeley County deputies responded to a suspicious vehicle that has been tied to the man who two days later would later be accused of kidnapping a 4-year-old Johns Island girl.
Deputies who were investigating a reported suspicious vehicle on the morning of Feb. 11 encountered a man they identified as Thomas Lawton Evans, Jr.,walking along a road with a gas can.
Evans, 37, is facing state and federal charges of kidnapping in the abduction of Heidi Todd from her Johns Island home on Feb. 13, just two days after deputies in Berkeley County encountered him.
Deputies say Evans was driving with a suspended license when he ran out of gas. Residents called deputies about the vehicle which was parked in the 1900 block of Mendel Rivers Road in at approximately 8:09 a.m. on Feb. 11, according to an incident report. The vehicle was a black Honda Civic registered to a woman in Boiling Springs, deputies say.
Neighbors told deputies they observed a man walking through yards toward St. Stephen who said he was looking for gasoline.
Deputies say that man was Evans.
Carole Grunsky said she had a close encounter with Evans and had no idea who he was until after his arrest for the kidnapping. She said he surprised her at her back door.
"There was a man standing there," she said. "He startled me and I screamed and he said, 'No, ma'am, no ma'am I don't mean to scare you.'"
He told her he had run out of gas.
"I told him, 'My husband tried to help you at 6:30 this morning and you refused the help and I can't help you,'" she said. At that point, she said Evans went behind her brother's house. "I knew there was enough distance between me and him and I went out on my porch and told him he had five minutes t get off the property or I was going to call the police."
She called the sheriff's office.
Deputies found him walking down Harristown Road with a gas can that he said came from an area church, along with the money to purchase gas. The church staff confirmed they had provided the assistance to Evans, the report states.
Deputies say they ran Evans' information through dispatch but learned his license was suspended. Evans told deputies he would have his brother come pick up the car.
Berkeley County Chief Deputy Mike Cochran said Evans was not arrested for driving under suspension because the law requires that deputies see him driving to make such an arrest.
After confirming his information was clear and that he had no stolen items in his possession, deputies allowed him to go, the report states.
Two days later, according to Charleston investigators, he assaulted a mother of five in her Johns Island home then abducted Todd. Todd was rescued the following day in Riverside, Alabama after railroad workers there reported a suspicious vehicle in the area.
Police said Evans, who was in the car with the child, fled the scene, but he was later captured that evening in Mississippi.
After Evans' arrest for the kidnapping, an official with the sheriff's office called her to tell her the man at her house was Evans.
"I was stunned," she said. "I couldn't process it for a couple of days because I was fixing to retire from the sheriff's office and I had a lot of stuff on my mind."
Grunsky says her instincts helped her realize something wasn't right.
"It confirmed everything that I knew as a victim advocate that we have to be guarded and watch out for anybody. You just can't trust people today," she said.
Evans, who was arrested in Mississippi is in the custody of US Marshals and is believed to be on the way back to South Carolina to face federal kidnapping charges.