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October 15, 2013

Two Canadian teens in custody after wild Maine chase

The boy, 16, is charged with eluding an officer, passing a roadblock and aggravated criminal mischief.

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

KINGFIELD — Two Canadian teenagers are in custody after a crime spree that began with a stolen car in Ontario over the weekend and ended Tuesday morning in a chase by police and shots fired by U.S. Border Patrol agents in Franklin County, authorities said.

Wearing a hospital gown and neck brace for injuries he suffered when he jumped into the Carrabassett River, Zachary Wittke leaves Farmington District Court on Tuesday.

David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

The teenagers from Ontario – a 16-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl from communities just outside Ottawa – led officers on a southbound chase in which speeds reached 100 mph on Route 27 from the border crossing linking Coburn Gore and St.-Augustin-de-Woburn, Quebec.

They were caught after crashing the car and fleeing into the Carrabassett River, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland said in a news release.

“It was a mini Bonnie and Clyde thing,” Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols said.

Zachary Wittke of Eganville, Ontario, was charged in Maine with three Class C felonies: eluding an officer, passing a roadblock and aggravated criminal mischief.

Speeds during the chase early Tuesday morning reached more than 100 mph, and Border Patrol agents fired shots at the fleeing car after it collided with two Border Patrol vehicles. Neither of the teens was hit by gunfire, and neither fired at authorities, Nichols said.

Wittke appeared in court Tuesday afternoon in Farmington dressed in a hospital gown over street clothes and wearing a foam neck brace.

With his court-appointed attorney, Linda Sparks, beside him, he denied all charges and was ordered held without bail by District Court Judge Susan Oram, pending an Oct. 30 hearing.

Authorities in Maine are allowed by statute to release the names of juveniles charged with felonies in formal court petitions, as Wittke was Tuesday.

The girl’s name hasn’t been released and it was unclear Tuesday afternoon whether she will be charged. Assistant Franklin County District Attorney Josh Robbins said there is no indication that she was with Wittke against her will.

Robbins said Wittke is on probation in Ontario, where there are warrants for his arrest. He said he didn’t know what charges Wittke faces there.

Robbins said police reports were still coming in Tuesday afternoon, but it seems the couple came to the border accidentally while trying to go someplace else.

“I believe when he got to the border, he panicked and set off a chase that involved the Border Patrol and culminated with the actions with the state police and the sheriff’s office,” Robbins said.

‘A lot of chaos’

The crime spree started over the weekend with a stolen vehicle from Ontario, near Canada’s capital city. The vehicle was chased by Canadian police and later found abandoned in Sherbrooke, Quebec, according to McCausland.

The couple allegedly then stole another car and entered the U.S. on Monday night in Coburn Gore, where U.S. Border Patrol agents chased the car south on Route 27.

The fleeing car and a Border Patrol vehicle collided near Stratton and Border Patrol agents fired shots at the car, which kept heading south toward Kingfield, McCausland said.

The car stolen in Quebec later was found abandoned in Kingfield, about 50 miles south of Coburn Gore, where police say the teens then stole a pickup truck. Maine State Police Lt. Aaron Hayden spotted that truck driving erratically in New Portland, in neighboring Somerset County. He chased it.

Nichols said police sealed off all roads into and out of Kingfield, but the teens already had stolen the truck and slipped away south of police roadblocks.

“They created a lot of chaos for a while,” he said. “We locked the town down, set up roadblocks north, south, east and west of town to make sure that if these two characters stole another vehicle they couldn’t get by us, but they got by south of us, prior to our roadblock.”

As the new chase began, the fleeing pickup ran over spike mats set out by other officers, and two of the trucks’ tires were deflated. The chase ended when the teens stopped the stolen truck at a guardrail along Route 27 in Kingfield after police made low-speed contact with the vehicle, McCausland said.

The teens then jumped into the Carrabassett River, “sustaining injuries because they dropped 10 to 12 feet onto the rocks below,” Nichols said.

Both were taken to Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington for evaluation, and the girl was transferred later to Maine Medical Center in Portland with possible internal injuries as a result of jumping down the rocky embankment.

Wittke has no family in Maine or anywhere else in the United States and therefore is a risk to flee and fail to appear in court, which is why he should be held without bail, Robbins said Tuesday in court.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office sent investigators to the scene because of the shots fired at the fleeing car. The Carrabassett Valley and Kingfield police assisted.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:dharlow@centralmaine.com
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