CODY, Neb. – Despite having a bad heart and a beat-up Buick with 260,000 miles, Ron Schneider feels a moral obligation to chase down customers who drive off from his gas station without paying.

“It’s just the principle of the thing. If that (jerk) can afford a $30,000 pickup, he can afford a tank of gas,” said Schneider, 63, who finds out this month if he’s considered healthy enough for a heart transplant.

And so it went eight days ago, when Schneider sped off down U.S. Highway 20 in “Old Blue” – his 1989 Buick Park Avenue – after the driver of a 2005 crew cab Chevy pickup left without paying a $62.93 bill.

Only this time – unbeknown to Schneider – the driver wasn’t an elderly local who forgot, or a ranch kid testing an old man with a pacemaker that is fitted with a defibrillator. It was an armed and desperate murder suspect from Missouri.

After a 40-mile chase in which speeds approached 110 mph, the pickup went off-road and got stuck in a sandy ravine on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in nearby South Dakota.

The driver, Bruce Kale of Brookfield, Mo., grabbed a rifle and walked into the prairie. He ignored Schneider’s shouted instructions to give up, then was shot and killed by tribal police within an hour.

The gas station owner is counting his blessings that he didn’t get shot, too. But he said he’d probably fire up Old Blue again if someone were to drive off without paying.

“I’m pretty damned stubborn, I guess,” Schneider said.

The chief of the Rosebud Tribal police said Schneider is pretty damned lucky, too.

“The gentleman (Schneider) – if he’s not religious, he should be. The individual who died had no qualms about shooting a 63-year-old man down in Missouri,” said Police Chief Charles Red Crow.

That man, Carl Clevenger, was found dead, shot in the back of the head, on March 22 in a north-central Missouri trailer home near Wheeling, where Kale had lived for a few days. A murder warrant for Kale, 26, was issued March 23.

One day after that, about 8:15 a.m., Kale drove a stolen pickup into Schneider’s gas station in Cody, a town of 130 on a lonely strip of U.S. Highway 20 along the Nebraska border with South Dakota.

Schneider, who had just finished a cribbage game in the station, saw the pickup and knew it wasn’t a local. After seeing 4-by-4 posts in the bed, he guessed it was a construction worker. He figures he knows 90 percent of his customers.

“I recognize most of them front and back,” Schneider said.

After getting gas, Kale sped east without speaking a word to Schneider or his cashier, Lody Krick, who called the sheriff.

Schneider jumped in his Buick and took off.

Old Blue’s speedometer topped out at 108 mph. Twice, Schneider said, he was able to pass the speeding pickup and block the road with his Buick. Both times, Kale drove into a ditch to evade the roadblock.

“I just thought I was after a nickel-and-dime artist. My imagination wouldn’t let me go to the point that I was in real danger,” Schneider said.

The chase continued into South Dakota, where the pickup turned onto a gravel road and eventually into a prairie dog town. The truck finally became stuck in a sandy ravine.

Schneider, shouting while standing on the edge of the ravine some 30 yards away, asked the man why he’d driven off. Schneider told Kale to turn himself in. After all, he was young, and would spend only a couple of years in jail.

“It’d be a lot more than a couple of years,” yelled Kale, whose identity Schneider still didn’t know. “I won’t go back.”

By then, Kale had reached into the pickup and pulled out a backpack and a rifle.

He never pointed the rifle – nor either of the two pistols in the backpack – at Schneider, who guessed later that Kale had “lost his desire to kill someone.”

Eventually, Kale turned and walked away.

“I won’t go back. I’ll live out here by myself,” he told Schneider.

At Schneider’s request, a nearby resident called 911 to report the license plate of the pickup and the location of the end of the “drive-off” chase.

That’s when authorities, and later Schneider, learned that the truck’s driver was a fugitive wanted for murder.

Just after noon, after returning to his gas station, Schneider learned that tribal police had shot and killed Kale. The fugitive ignored a dozen demands that he drop his gun, then raised the rifle toward the officers, the police chief said.

Schneider said he had mixed feelings. Kale wasn’t mean to him, and maybe, he figured, the murder was accidental. (It wasn’t, according to Missouri officials.)

But around Cody, Schneider is regarded as a hero, kiddingly compared to “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” the long-haired, leather-clad star of a cable TV reality show.

Later this month, Schneider said, he’s headed again to the Mayo Clinic to find out if his body is fit enough to get onto a heart transplant list.

Though his longtime wife, Lucille, warned him to never do such a stupid thing again, Schneider said he probably will.

It’s the principle. Plus, it was an adrenaline rush, he said.

“Afterwards,” Schneider said, “my heart felt better than it had in probably a couple of years.”

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