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With cars backing up more than usual on Transit Road, a Lancaster police officer spotted an old station wagon stuck under a traffic light, and approached to see what the problem was.

The driver and his passenger were prying at the steering column with a screwdriver, according to police.

A short time later, Officer James Robinson learned he had just confronted one of the best-known pairs of car thieves in the Buffalo area.

Merle and David Steele -- two members of what had once been known as the Steele Brothers Gang -- were under arrest.


Of course, it wasn't a simple arrest. It often isn't with the Steele brothers -- now in their 40s -- who, along with other family members, have been stealing cars, among other things, since their teenage years, according to police.

"They have a long history," said Lt. Larry Baehre, a Buffalo Police Department spokesman. "Stealing cars. That is their shtick."

Here's what happened on Transit Road on Wednesday afternoon, according to police.

It was about 12:45 p.m. when Officer Robinson spotted the 1983 Chevrolet station wagon stuck at the traffic light just north of Genesee Street, not far from the Thruway entrance.

The Lancaster police officer parked his police cruiser and checked things out.

When Robinson asked what the problem was, the men complained that "the piece-of-junk car" wouldn't start, Robinson said.

With traffic swirling around, Robinson told the men he was going to clear some of the traffic, then come back to help them.

Suddenly, the station wagon took off.

The officer followed. A short way up the road, the station wagon turned into the parking lot at a Bob Evans Restaurant, but had to stop to avoid a car pulling out of a parking spot.

The driver and passenger then jumped out of the car and started running. Robinson just about caught up with them, and the men went in different directions. Robinson chased after the driver, David Steele, and caught up with him. But David started fighting with the officer. Robinson sprayed David with pepper spray, then David knocked into Robinson's hand, and the officer also got sprayed.

Still, Robinson was able to subdue David and get him in handcuffs.

Meanwhile, a maintenance worker at the Red Roof Inn, Rich Depczynski, had seen the chase as it passed the motel, and began following Merle Steele from a distance. Depczynski had a radio, so when Robinson's backup officers arrived, he let the officer know exactly where Merle was.

Merle was arrested by Officers Ronald Keicher and Andy Koss.

Merle Steele, 42, and David Steele, 41, both of Littel Street in Buffalo, were charged with criminal possession of stolen property and resisting arrest. The car they were driving was owned by a Cheektowaga woman, and was stolen from a parking lot on Dingens Street while she was at work, police said.

David and Merle Steele are among five brothers from South Buffalo who, in the 1970s and 1980s, were known as the Steele Brothers Gang. The brothers were arrested more than 100 times in the two decades, and a few have continued to get into trouble in the past decade as well, according to police.

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