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Elusive burglar from Island County caught in the Bahamas
Island County wants to be first in line when “barefoot bandit” Colton Harris-Moore returns to the United States to face charges.
Harris-Moore, 19, of Camano Island, who had been on the run since escaping from a Renton juvenile halfway house in 2008, was apprehended in the Bahamas on Sunday after a dramatic high-speed boat chase during which police shot out his motor.
He is expected to appear in a Nassau court this week to face criminal charges.
“I think they intend to try him down there,” Greg Banks, Island County prosecutor, said Monday. “We don’t know how long that would take.”
“Our position is that the oldest cases should go first,” Banks said. “Witnesses and evidence get stale. The best thing is to handle the cases chronologically.”
Meanwhile, residents of Sandy Hook near Possession Point south of Clinton continue to believe Harris-Moore was responsible for a series of May burglaries and the theft of a 26-foot power boat later found beached at Point No Point in Kitsap County.
If it’s true, they would be some of his final exploits in the area before he headed east.
“Hopefully, this will be the end of that kind of problem here,” Dave Rasmussen, harbormaster at the Sandy Hook Marina, said Monday. “People have been speculating its him. The M-O is similar to everything else we’ve read.”
Banks said Island County has been after Harris-Moore longer than any other agency, and should get first crack at him when he eventually returns to the states.
He said the county has six felony warrants and four gross misdemeanor warrants pending against the young fugitive since 2008.
Harris-Moore also has two years left on the burglary sentence he was serving when he walked away from a halfway house in Renton and began the crime spree that made him famous.
Despite having no driver’s license or flight training, he is accused of stealing expensive cars, boats and five airplanes, and of burglarizing several homes and vacation cabins up and down Whidbey and Camano islands, as well as in the San Juan Islands and other areas of northern Puget Sound.
He was labeled the “barefoot bandit” because he often fled the scene of an alleged crime wearing no shoes, officials say. He reportedly was barefoot when he was captured on Sunday.
Besides Island County, Harris-Moore also has been charged in federal court in Seattle, and faces state charges in San Juan County and in Nebraska.
In all, he is suspected in about 70 property cases across eight states and British Columbia.
In recent weeks, authorities said a trail of stolen cars and airport break-ins appeared to indicate Harris-Moore was heading eastward.
A single-engine Cessna aircraft later found crash-landed in the Bahamas was believed to have been stolen by Harris-Moore this past week in Indiana.
Banks said Harris-Moore could be returned to the U.S. quickly on immigration grounds, since he had no passport. Or he could be brought back through extradition, a much longer process.
“But that won’t happen until they’re done with him,” Banks said of the Bahamas legal system. “He may be there for some time.”
According to the Associated Press, Harris-Moore was questioned Monday by Bahamian police, who said he could be returned to the U.S. relatively quickly, but declined further comment, including whether or not he confessed.
Meanwhile, Island County Sheriff Mark Brown said he has been swamped with calls from media representatives from around the world seeking comment on the arrest.
“The phones have been ringing off the hook,” Brown said Monday. “It’s been hectic.”
Brown said he dislikes the sensational aspect of the case and would prefer not to add to it.
“I only want justice,” the sheriff said. “The sensationalism is tragic.”
Brown praised the efforts of Bahamian police in apprehending Harris-Moore.
“I congratulate them for keeping everyone safe,” Brown said. “But no doubt his victims in this county want to hold him accountable.”
Brown declined to say if burglary cases reported at Sandy Hook were included in information being sent to other law enforcement agencies investigating Harris-Moore.
“I don’t like to talk about ongoing investigations,” he said.
Jim Dyment, president of the Sandy Hook Homeowners Association, said Monday that security measures have been increased in the neighborhood, and that its block-watch program is being encouraged.
He said no further incidents have been reported since the May break-ins, which he also believes were the work of Harris-Moore.
“Criminals don’t take the time to copycat each other,” Dyment said. “It was him.”
Dyment rejected the romantic attitude of some people toward the teenager, who has become a cult hero with thousands of fans on his Facebook page.
“He’s not a Robin Hood,” Dyment said. “He doesn’t give to the poor. All he does is steal. He’s a thug.”
Brown deflected criticism that his department failed to capture Harris-Moore for two years, which Bahamian police did in two days.
He said his deputies caught the teenager at least three times, including his first arrest for property theft at age 12.
Dyment declined to blame the county sheriff’s office, given the recent budget cuts in local law enforcement.
“You get what you pay for,” he said.
Harris-Moore’s mother, Pam Kohler, of Camano Island, issued a statement saying she has been unable to speak to her son.
“It has been over two-and-a-half years since I have seen him, and I miss him terribly,” the statement said.
According to reports, Kohler has hired Seattle property attorney O. Yale Lewis, who has represented celebrities such as Courtney Love and the father of rock legend Jimi Hendrix.
Lewis said Kohler contacted him for advice after being inundated by requests from news reporters and inquiries about book and movie deals, according to the Associated Press.
In December, Time magazine called Harris-Moore “America’s Most Wanted Teenage Bandit,” and a Facebook site for him showed nearly 58,000 “fans” as of Sunday, according to CNN. And 20th Century Fox reportedly has purchased the rights for a film based on Harris-Moore’s exploits.
But Harris-Moore has fewer fans on Whidbey Island, especially among officials who have pursued him for two years, and residents who may have been his victims.
Banks said the county has a number of outstanding warrants on fugitives.
“Eventually, a lot of them do get caught,” he said. “I’m glad he got caught.”
“Good riddance,” said Dyment.