Wednesday, April 23, 2014
By Kaitlin Schroeder
A U.S. Border Patrol agent has been cleared by the Maine attorney general for shooting at a 16-year-old driver and his 14-year-old passenger when they barreled through the Canadian border at Coburn, touching off a chase that ended with the teenagers crashing a truck into guardrail.
CLEARED: U.S. Border Patrol Agent Christopher Talbert, who fired shots at Zachary Wittke, pictured here in October leaving Franklin County Superior Court in Farmington, has been cleared of his use of deadly force.
Staff file photo by David Leaming
Christopher Talbert was investigated for shooting at, but not injuring, 16-year-old Zachary Wittke, of Eganville, Ontario, and a 14-year-old girl from Pembroke, Ontario, according to a press released Wednesday by the Maine Attorney General’s Office. The girl has not been identified by authorities.
Attorney General Janet Mills concluded it was reasonable for Talbert “to believe that deadly force was imminently threatened against him and, in fact, being used against him, and it was reasonable for him to believe that it was necessary for him to use deadly force to protect himself from Mr. Wittke’s actions.”
On Oct. 14 at 8:15 p.m., the teens crashed through the gate at the Coburn Gore border crossing, driving a truck they had stolen in Ontario. A 50-mile chase down Route 27 through Franklin County ended when Wittke crashed into a guardrail along the Carrabassett River in Kingfield.
He was charged with multiple felonies and taken to Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston.
Wittke, who pleaded guilty to five charges and was granted a sentence of time already served, was returned to Ontario to face additional charges there in connection with the incident.
Valerie Wittke has previously told the Morning Sentinel that her son suffers from mental health problems. Reached by phone Wednesday, she declined to comment on the attorney general’s findings.
DETAILED DECRIPTION OF ENCOUNTER
The attorney general’s press release offers a detailed description of Talbert’s encounter with the fleeing teenagers. Talbert fired shots halfway through the chase when the truck driven by Wittke stopped in the opposite lane of Route 27 in Stratton, near the intersection with Pine Street.
Talbert stopped his cruiser 32 feet behind the Dodge Dakota and got out of the car to arrest them. While walking toward the truck, Talbert saw its backup lights flash on and saw it accelerate toward him in reverse.
Talbert went back into his cruiser, which the truck hit. Talbert fired six shots from his handgun through his windshield. Four rounds struck and shattered the rear window of the pickup, passed through the cab and struck the inside of its windshield. One round struck the truck tailgate, and another struck the driver side rear view mirror.
Talbert did not know when he fired the shots that the truck’s occupants were teenagers, the report said.
After the collision, Talbert was treated at Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington for injuries to his knee, shoulder, neck and back.
The 14-year-old, who was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland for treatment of internal injuries, was later taken back to Canada to face criminal charges.
PORT RUNNER REPORTED
The chase started Oct. 14 when U.S. Border Patrol Supervisory Agent William Hardt received a report of a port runner – someone who refuses to stop at the border station – in a red truck at the Coburn Gore crossing. Hardt, based in Rangeley, alerted the other agents on duty, including Talbert, who radioed that he was about five minutes behind Hardt.
Hardt, driving north toward the border on Route 27, encountered the truck a couple miles south of the crossing, and he began his pursuit. When Hardt got closer to the truck, Wittke hit the truck’s brakes several times in an apparent attempt to cause a crash, according to the release.
Hardt at least twice tried to use an unspecified “pursuit termination technique” but the truck drove away each time, according to the attorney general’s report.
Near Stratton, Talbert, a trainer for the Border Patrol who instructs other agents on pursuit termination techniques, passed and became the lead cruiser in the chase. Speeds reached 96 mph before Talbert stopped and tried to arrest the two.
After the truck struck Talbert’s cruiser and Talbert fired shots, Wittke sped off again.
A third Border Patrol officer, Agent Nate Gooding, then took over pursuit. Talbert attempted to follow but his cruiser became inoperable a short distance later.
Wittke drove across a field and into the woods on a snowmobile trail, and came to a stop after the truck struck a tree several hundred feet off Route 27.
The teenagers stole another truck, this time from a Kingfield resident, and headed north on Route 27.
The truck ran over two different sets of spike mats, puncturing its tires and eventually stopping after hitting a guardrail.
Kaitlin Schroeder can be contacted at 861-9252 or at: