Orange County

Armed pastor foils getaway of Orange County church break-in suspect

Pastor Austin Brown thwarted a break-in on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, at the Five Forks Baptist Church north of Hillsborough.
Pastor Austin Brown thwarted a break-in on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, at the Five Forks Baptist Church north of Hillsborough. Contributed

Pastor Austin Brown was studying alone Thursday afternoon in Five Forks Baptist Church when he heard a noise.

He saw a strange car in the parking lot of the church, located in the rural northern Orange County community of Cedar Grove, and drawing his pistol from his pocket, he continued to investigate. As he rounded a corner, he found a man in the church office. He thought about his wife and baby daughter, who were due to arrive at any time, and the women decorating in the church’s fellowship hall, he said.

Brown, 27, said he doesn’t recall what he said to the man – later identified as Cory Vondell Bradshaw, 38, of 3135 Callaway Drive in Mebane. Bradshaw took off running when he saw the pistol, Brown said, and he followed, firing a warning shot and then two shots at the man’s car. As Bradshaw sped off, Brown returned to the church to call 911.

“Based on the (concealed carry) training they give you, they tell you when you have a legal right to defend yourself,” he said. “I didn’t want to hurt Mr. Bradshaw at all. I just wanted to try to prevent him from escaping, and the way I knew to do that was to disable his vehicle.”

Orange County Sheriff’s deputies, investigators, and K9 and civil process officers responded around 3 p.m. and began their search. A gunshot that hit the car’s tire left Bradshaw with a flat a few miles from the church. Deputies said he pulled behind an abandoned golf course on McDade Store Road to change the tire, and that’s where Sgt. Brandon Lassiter found him with the spare tire in hand.

Bradshaw fled on foot, leaving his car behind, Lassiter reported. Deputies began searching the woods and finding Bradshaw around 5 p.m. near the intersection of Carr Store and Compton Road.

Bradshaw confessed to the crime after being arrested, sheriff’s officials said. He was charged with felony breaking and entering, attempted larceny and resisting arrest, and remains in the Orange County Jail under $10,000 bail.

He is proud of his team’s quick response, Sheriff Charles Blackwood said in a Facebook post Thursday, and also glad for the “cooperation and assistance provided by the residents of Cedar Grove,” which was “invaluable in helping achieve a successful outcome today.”

Brown said he’s just thankful nobody was hurt. Bradshaw apologized for breaking into the church and the congregation accepted the apology, Brown added.

“This time of year, you hate to see anybody have to go to jail,” Brown said. “Him and his family will be in our prayers.”

Sheriff’s Investigator Tim Horne, when asked about how the state’s self-defense law applies in this situation, said he wouldn’t second-guess Brown’s decision to use his pistol. The district attorney will weigh the facts once the sheriff’s office finishes its investigation, he said.

“The decisions we make in law enforcement and as citizens are not always crystal clear,” Horne said.

“A rapidly evolving situation like that, where you’re caught off guard, you’re surprised, you’re in fear, you react,” he said, “and when things settle down, maybe you would have done the exact same thing or maybe you would have done something different, but you don’t have that luxury of time when something’s in progress.”

State law allows the use of force to stop an attacker who poses an imminent danger to themselves or others. Non-deadly force can be used against someone breaking into a home, workplace or car, the law states, and a person with the right to be at that location does not have to retreat.

However, a person who chooses to use deadly force is required to stop if the intruder or attacker leaves.

Brown, who grew up in the church, said he started carrying a pistol when he lived out of state for several years. His family returned to Orange County in 2016, and about a month ago, he finished the classes and paperwork to get his concealed carry permit.

“Just for personal protection, and when you’re responsible for a lot of people, you want to make sure that they’re taken care of, and I feel like that’s part of my responsibility. As a pastor, if I can prevent something from happening to a member, I want to be able to try to do that.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb