Teens chase boat thieves through Whidbey waters with drone

Two teens with a drone and sheriff’s deputies thwarted South Whidbey boat bandits out for a joyride Wednesday.

The unusual case, complete with a happy ending, made regional and even national TV news this week.

Deputy Grant Walker with the Island County Sheriff’s Office said the incident began Wednesday morning when two teens staying at a Camano Island cabin owned by one of the boy’s uncles saw two people stealing their uncle’s boat, anchored off shore.

The thieves tied the red Zodiac to their white Trophy vessel and took off.

The boys called police and quickly launched a drone to trail the wannabe boat pirates from the air. They were able to tell the emergency dispatcher that the culprits were headed straight across the water toward the Langley area of Whidbey Island.

Deputies Walker and Leif Haugen, along with a Langley police officer, scanned the water on the east side of Whidbey in search of the ill-gotten boats.

Walker went to the Bell’s Beach neighborhood and saw two boats matching the description of the stolen vessels anchored off shore. He saw two people whom he knew as Langley residents James and Susan Rabourn walking from the boats to the bluff.

The deputies questioned the Rabourns, who allegedly admitted stealing the boats.

The Trophy was taken from Holmes Harbor, Walker said.

James Rabourn said he took the first boat because he wanted to show his wife a good time by going joyriding in the water, said Walker. The boat was actually broken, but Rabourn somehow temporarily fixed it and got it started.

Walker said it’s unclear why the couple also took the Zodiac from Camano.

To beat the rising tide, Walker and Haugen walked out to the Zodiac, anchored offshore. They ended up waist-deep in water and got temporarily stuck in the thigh-high mud. Haugen threw his boots at the Zodiac and missed.

“It was a comical experience,” Walker said. “People back on shore probably had a good show.”

The men eventually got into the boat. Walker said they drove it across the channel to Camano. The kids with the drone took them back to Langley on the vessel. The owner of the other boat retrieved it himself.

Walker said it felt great to be able to give the boats back so quickly and get the alleged bad guys.

“It was nice to be able to resolve everything in one sitting,” Walker said.

Walker said the teenagers’ use of the drones was what caught the attention of TV news crews. The drone was able to pursue the boats into the Saratoga Passage before they were out of range.

Walker and Haugen were interviewed by ABC news over Skype on Thursday. Unfortunately, the longer story was edited to just a 30-second spot because of other breaking news.

There’s still a chance the full story will air on Good Morning America, he said.