Woman, 80, dies after scaring off burglars

December 2, 2011 3:47:27 PM PST
Homeowners in Memorial Villages say they are shocked to hear that one of their neighbors has died after she tried to protect her home from some suspected burglars. The man and woman were apparently posing as utility workers.

The woman scared off the burglars by shooting at them. They were scared enough that police say one of them dropped a bag of jewelry taken from the home in the front yard. But the homeowner still paid a terrible, indirect price -- a fatal heart attack.

It's been the Erney family home for years -- a place where children were raised and now a couple was growing old together. Judging from the bars around the porch, they were mindful of security, but late Wednesday afternoon, a woman claiming to be a utility worker was able to breach it.

Memorial Villages Police Chief Haril Walpole explained, "While the female (suspect) was talking to (the victim), the male was apparently inside, from what we can gather, and the homeowner realized something was wrong."

Her husband wasn't home at the time when Elizabeth Erney, 80, did what you might not expect. She grabbed a gun and fired twice at the burglary suspects who ran to a waiting van. Her friends were not completely surprised.

Lee Hunnell, a friend of the victim, said, "She did not strike me as a wallflower. As her grandson described her, she was a pistol."

And yet all the excitement was apparently too much for her. Even as she was speaking to police who'd arrived at the home, Elizabeth Erney collapsed in the front yard.

"We called EMS and had the fire department come out," Chief Walpole said. "They transported her to Memorial Hermann Hospital where she passed away."

Now people are being warned about fake utility workers who ask to come into homes and a lot of Memorial homeowners are double checking their door locks.

A similar scam was reported in the area about nine months ago. There were said to be arrests made in that case.

Now police are looking for a young woman and at least two men involved in this one. They'll face burglary charges if they're caught. But if Elizabeth Erney's friends have their way, they'll also be charged with manslaughter.

Chief Walpole said, "I think that their actions contributed to her death."

It is known as a distraction burglary. In this case, a young woman comes to the front door saying she's a utility worker, while her companion goes around to the back, enters the home through a back door, and then the items are stolen.

The vehicle the suspects were driving is said to be a white Dodge or Chrysler van, bearing the first three license plate digits of CX1. It may have been seen in the area earlier in the day. Anyone with information is asked to call police.

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