Billings Man Fights Truck Thief; Jumps On Moving Stolen Truck, Bashes Thief With Sledgehammer

Tim Payne's truck would have been gone forever but his phone was left inside. Thanks to a tracking app he was able to find his truck and then with a shovel and sledgehammer beat the thief down to get it back. All while the truck was moving.

Jimmy Orr

December 15, 20227 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

It sounds like an action movie.

When Billings resident Tim Payne grabbed the side of his own moving stolen truck and started bashing the driver with a shovel and a sledgehammer last week, he said he was full of adrenaline, but not the type of adrenaline he was used to.

Despite the repeated hits in the head, the thief kept his foot on the gas pedal and Payne was getting flung like an extension cord, bashing into dumpsters and backyard walls while careening down an alley.

Then he spotted his trusty sledgehammer.

‘Really Good Neighborhood

It started off as an ordinary Monday late afternoon for Payne. He was picking his 3-year-old daughter up, who was spending the day at his 19-year-old daughter’s house, when he heard his truck squeal off.

He’d left the keys in the truck to keep it warm. He thought he could because it was in a “really good neighborhood.”

“It was the last place I would expect anything to happen,” Payne told Cowboy State Daily.

But when he heard the commotion, he knew it was his truck.

“I ran out the door and saw it fishtailing down the street,” he said. “I knew it was gone.”

All of his tools gone. And for a contract construction worker, his way to make a living was gone.

“I was screaming,” he said. “I was at a loss for ideas.”

‘Tracking App

Then Payne remembered there was something else in his truck. His phone.

He perked up. HIs family all have a “tracking app” on their phones. It’s called Life360 and it lets everyone in his family know where everyone else is.

That meant he could — as long as the phone stayed in the truck — track the thief.

He pulled up his daughter’s phone and there he was — a little blinking pixel moving across the lighted phone. 

He called his wife and she began tracking the carjacker too.

Then she called the cops and gave them the play-by-play of where he was.

“Step by step, turn by turn, she was telling the cops where he was going,” Payne said.

Screenshot of Tim Payne’s Life360 tracking app

‘Going Vigilante

In the meantime, Payne did what law enforcement tells you not to. 

“I was going vigilante,” he said

He called up his buddy and they started going after the thief. Coming along for the ride were his two daughters.

Then the little pixel stopped moving. The thief stopped. 

Or did the carjacker get wise and throw the phone out the window? Payne made a mental note of the location as his friend kept driving.

About five minutes later, the pixel began moving again before stopping again after about a minute.

When they got to that location, he saw a glint in the middle of the intersection. It was his phone.

“I was worried at that point that I was never going to see my truck again,” he said. 

But the discouragement didn’t last long. He theorized what happened. The thief tossed it and then went back to the first location. So that’s where they went.

‘There’s Your Truck!

“I didn’t see nothing at first, but then my daughter said there’s your truck right there!” he said.

It was at that point he said he felt a “huge rush.”

“I was relieved and excited and scared all at the same time,” he said. “I’m an adrenaline junkie, but this is not the type of adrenaline I’m used to. Completely different.”

Regardless, he was going for it.

Running down the alley toward the truck, as soon as Payne got close he yelled at the person in the driver’s seat. The truck idled; the driver’s side window was half-down.

“The guy in my truck was really surprised,” Payne said.

Just as Payne got close to the door, the thief threw it in reverse and to avoid getting run over, he jumped onto the sidestep of the passenger’s side and held on to the mirror – all while getting scraped against a wall.

“I was going to do whatever it took. I was getting my truck back,” he said.

House where Tim Payne spotted his stolen truck

Crazy Rodeo

The thief backed the truck into a fence and it threw Payne off and then put it into drive.

“I was able to jump into the back of my truck and just held on,” Payne said.

Once the thief saw that Payne was in the back of truck, he accelerated and slammed on the brakes repeatedly to try to throw him from it.

Payne, meanwhile, inched up in the bed and grabbed a shovel and bashed the back window out of it and managed to break the driver’s side window as well.

Then, while holding onto the back window, he repeatedly hit the thief in the head with the shovel.

“I was surprised by the amount of damage I did to this guy and he just kept going,” Payne said.

Shovel that Tim Payne used to bash the thief in the head


The injured driver barreled down the alley for awhile longer before slamming into another truck.

Payne was able to hold on. And right after the crash, he grabbed a sledgehammer, jumped out of the truck and “winged it” through the driver side window.

“It connected with him pretty good and I thought that was the end of it,” he said.

But like Michael Meyers in “Halloween,” it didn’t stop the thief.

“I dove threw the window and put him in a headlock,” Payne said. “And I started punching the hell out of him.”

“Combat inside a vehicle is hard,” he added.

Payne was worn out, but the thief seemed to have an endless supply of energy.

Despite being in a headlock and getting punched repeatedly in the face, the thief pulled out a knife from his pocket.

“I got really scared at the point,” Payne said.  “Since I didn’t have any energy left, I let him go.”

But instead of getting attacked, the thief ran off. Turns out he left a few bags of meth in the passenger seat.

Tim Payne’s broken but rescued truck

Got His Truck

But Payne got his truck back.

The police arrived shortly after and, surrounded by wreckage, Payne gave his official statement.

Payne’s truck is a mess, drivable but no longer street legal. It won’t be cheap to get it repaired.

His tools are gone. Those won’t be easy for him to replace either.

And they took his wallet.

The good news is that whoever tried to use his credit card at a liquor store In Laurel, Montana, 14 miles away was caught on surveillance video.

And Payne says that his case (minus the super action heroics) is similar to many other crimes in Billings. So this isn’t an isolated incident.

“There’s a lot of people involved who want justice for their stolen cars, belongings and houses which have been broken into,” he said. “So we’re just trying to link it altogether, that way when restitution happens, we can all be compensated.”

In the meantime, Payne’s daughter set up a GoFundMe page which can be accessed here.

Video footage of Tim Payne’s stolen truck

When Tim Payne found his truck
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Jimmy Orr

Executive Editor

A third-generation Wyomingite, Jimmy Orr is the executive editor and co-founder of Cowboy State Daily.