By Ann McCreary / Methow Valley News
Three Snohomish County people were arrested in Mazama last week in connection with a spate of vehicle break-ins at local trailheads in which numerous cars were damaged and a variety of items, including cash, credit cards and computers, were stolen.
Since June 11, several vehicle prowls were reported at trailheads off Highway 20 north of Mazama. “The suspects would smash the windows out of the vehicles, grab what they could and leave the area, in some cases disabling the vehicles by puncturing the tires,” said Steve Brown, chief criminal deputy in the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office.
“Several similar complaints were reported over a three-week period in which the victims had cash, credit and debit cards stolen from their vehicles, some of which would then be used by the suspects to make purchases,” Brown said.
Two men and a woman were arrested at the Mazama Store on July 3 following investigations by the sheriff’s office and U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers.
Brandon Richard Sutherland, 33, Everett, Kodi Orion Anderson, 26, Sultan, and Sierra Lee Cotter, 23, Lake Stevens, were charged with theft in the second and third degree, vehicle prowl in the second degree and malicious mischief in the third degree. Sutherland and Anderson were also charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, and Cotter was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of drugs. They are being held in the Okanogan County Jail.
After receiving reports of vehicle prowls that began June 11, Forest Service Officer Dave Graves placed game cameras on roads leading to some trailheads, including Cedar Creek trailhead, according to a statement and preliminary finding of probable cause by arresting officer Tait Everett, a deputy in the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office.
Following a break-in of two vehicles at the Cedar Creek trailhead on July 1, Everett and Graves viewed photos from the camera on Everett’s laptop. They were able to talk with hikers, including one who saw a red Pontiac come into the trailhead parking lot. Officers determined that a red Pontiac Grand Am was likely the suspect vehicle and from the license plate in the photos, they found the car registered to Brandon Sutherland, according to Everett’s report, filed in Okanogan County Superior Court.
Another break-in occurred the evening of July 1 at the Blue Lake trailhead and the victim of the break-in told officers that his credit card had been used at a Walmart Supercenter in Marysville. Using photos from Walmart security cameras and the Department of Licensing, Everett said he identified Brandon Sutherland as one of the men at the Walmart. The Walmart cameras showed Sutherland and another man going to a red Pontiac Grand Am, Everett said.
Following another vehicle prowl on July 3 on Goat Creek Road, a red Pontiac Grand Am was reported driving on Lost River Road in Mazama, and a short time later was located at the Mazama Store, where the three suspects were taken into custody, Everett said.
Everett said he took photos of the vehicle and some of the contents visible through the window. Two additional vehicle prowls at the Cedar Creek trailhead were reported and one of the victims identified his belongings from the photos, Everett said.
The Pontiac was towed to the sheriff’s impound lot where a drug-sniffing dog later indicated narcotics inside the car. On July 4 Everett was granted a search warrant for the car. He reported finding property belonging to other people including driver’s licenses, checkbooks, credit and debit cards, a laptop computer and clothing. The search also revealed a “large quantity of drug paraphernalia,” according to Everett’s report.
Damage to at least seven vehicles, primarily from broken windows, is estimated at more than $1,500. Brown said he expects the arrests will put an end to the recent rash of vehicle prowls at trailheads, but advised people not to leave anything valuable in their cars when they leave on a hike, such as identifying information or debit and credit cards.
In addition to the sheriff’s office and Forest Service law enforcement, the Twisp Police Department and Winthrop Marshal’s Office participated in the case, Brown said.