Two buddies who served in the Army together in Iraq moved to South Whidbey intending to help the grandmother of one of the men save her farm.
The two young men were unable to find jobs, however, and allegedly went on a crime spree instead. They stole mail, broke into cars, took credit cards and purchased items with the stolen plastic, court documents alleged.
James Jones, 23, of Freeland and 21-year-old Tyler Miller of Langley are each facing a long list of charges that could result in prison terms.
Prosecutors charged both men in Island County Superior Court with one count of identity theft, two counts of theft in the second degree, two counts of vehicle prowling, possession of stolen mail, two counts of possession of stolen property, malicious mischief in the third degree and theft in the third.
Jones and Miller both pleaded not guilty March 19.
Deputy Sean Warwick with the Island County Sheriff’s Office and Langley Police Officer Dave Marks arrested the men as they were driving in their truck on South Whidbey last December. Warwick said in an interview that a spree of vehicle break-ins last year ended with the arrests. He said the break-ins were expensive for the victims because the men usually broke windows to enter cars.
And yet, Warwick said many of the victims felt badly about the men’s arrest because they want to support the troops.
“I felt torn, too,” he said. “I was in the military and I know it’s hard when you get out. But you can’t go around committing crimes.”
According to Warwick’s report on the incidents, the vehicle break-ins began in late November. In one case, a woman reported that her car was prowled after she parked at the Putney Woods Trail Head. Two of her credit cards were stolen and later used at three different Freeland businesses. One of the businesses provided the deputy with video of two men using the cards. The clerk identified one of the men as Jones, the report states.
Responding to reports of a suspicious black truck, Warwick and Marks pulled over the men’s truck on Highway 525 on Dec. 21.
Miller told the deputy that he and Jones had served in the Army together from basic training until they were deployed to Iraq. They had been released from the military and moved to South Whidbey to save a farm belonging to Jones’ grandmother.
“Miller reported that they had been doing car prowls for about two weeks because they couldn’t find any jobs,” Warwick wrote in his report.
Miller admitted there was stolen property in the truck. Warwick recovered stolen mail, checks belonging to a number of people, a laptop computer, a suitcase, speakers, a yellow ladder, a gift basket and other stolen items.
If convicted of the charges against them, both men would face from a year and five months to a year and 10 months in prison under the standard sentencing range.