Did teen fugitive steal car in Illinois?

  • Thu Jun 24th, 2010 10:03pm
  • News

By Jackson Holtz Herald Writer

A local probably would have known that the road where the stolen car got stuck in sand was impassible.

Spring floods had swelled the Mississippi River through southern Illinois, leaving debris on several roads.

So there’s increasing suspicion that the person driving the 2010 Chevrolet HHR was no local, but a 19-year-old fugitive from Camano Island, Colton Harris-Moore.

Before being sent to juvenile prison, Harris-Moore had never been east of the Cascade Mountains, never mind on the east banks of the country’s most famous river.

Now, if he is responsible, he’s continuing what appears to be a sprint to the East Coast in a succession of stolen cars.

The station wagon was found Wednesday morning, the same day officials in Ottumwa, Iowa, got word that the city-owned vehicle was stolen, police said.

“Somebody used the shovel out of the car to dig the car out,” Chief Deputy Scott Bentzinger said. “But he was unsuccessful.”

Dallas City is just under 100 miles east of Ottumwa across the Mississippi River. Bentzinger on Thursday said police in Dallas City have not received word of related burglaries or other stolen vehicles.

He declined to say what evidence, if any, detectives have collected from the stolen car.

The incident in Dallas City is the latest in a string of crimes that may be connected to Harris-Moore, a fugitive serial burglar with a long history of car thefts.

On Tuesday, police in Ottumwa recovered a vehicle stolen from Pella, Iowa, just as police there were investigating a vehicle that had been stolen from Nebraska. From Nebraska, a trail of stolen vehicles stretches back to South Dakota, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Police also are investigating a string of burglaries, beginning at the Ottumwa Regional Airport on Monday, then at a Mexican restaurant and a Frito Lay building, and finally at a city water and hydro building, where the Chevy was stolen, Ottumwa Police Lt. Tom McAndrew said.

Police in each city are sharing information. While no suspects have been confirmed, “It appears all incidents are connected,” he said.

Harris-Moore escaped a Seattle-area group home in April 2008 where he was serving a three-year sentence for possession of stolen property. Since then, he’s suspected of stealing planes, boats and cars. He’s reportedly flown planes despite no formal flight training, piloted boats without prior experience and now may be on a 2,000-mile road trip. He doesn’t have a driver’s license.

The evidence trail links back to Raymond, Wash., where police late last month recovered a note left a vet clinic signed by Harris-Moore. Fingerprints confirmed the note’s authenticity, officials said.

On June 1, a car was stolen from a small airport near Astoria, Ore. A string of similar crimes at small regional airports and more stolen vehicles have been repeated nearly a dozen times in the days since. The path now stretches into Illinois.

Pam Kohler, Harris-Moore’s mother, said Monday she believes her son is headed to visit someone, but she didn’t know who they are or where they live.

“I know he had people he knows on the East Coast, or at least that’s what he told me,” she said. She said she has not spoken to her boy in months.

She’s also not convinced that her son is responsible for all the car thefts. Surely there are copycat criminals at work, she said.

In the meantime, she has advice for her 6-foot, 5-inch child. “He ought to steal a plane and get the hell out of the States,” she said.

Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437; jholtz@heraldnet.com.