October 17, 2013

Maine chase suspect mentally ill, mother says

A 13-year-old girl with him, injured while trying to escape after a crash, is in stable condition.

By DOUG HARLOW Morning Sentinel

The mother of a 16-year-old Canadian boy who was arrested after a high-speed chase with police early Tuesday when U.S. Border Patrol agents fired shots, said her son suffers from mental health problems.

“Zack has a mental illness,” the boy’s mother, Valerie Wittke, said Wednesday by telephone from Canada. “All his life he has been battling his mental illness.”

She said her son, Zachary Wittke, of Eganville, Ontario, has mentioned suicide in the past. He has not attended classes at his high school during the past week or so, she said.

Valerie Wittke said her son has lived with his father for the past few years, but she would not give the father’s name.

Wittke and a 13-year-old girl, both from communities about 80 miles west of Ottawa, crossed the U.S.-Canadian border at Coburn Gore on Route 27 in a stolen car in the early morning hours Tuesday, police said.

The trip from Eganville to Kingfield, where the two were caught after crashing a stolen pickup truck, is about 400 miles if a direct route is followed.

Carol Anne Meehan, a news anchor for CTV News in Ottawa, said Zachary Wittke is well-known in Eganville, which is a village, has been in trouble before and is on probation there.

Valerie Wittke told Meehan that Zachary is not a bad child, but he did not want to live with his father and would rather be in jail.

Valerie Wittke said the girl, from the nearby city of Pembroke, Ontario, is quiet and probably just went along for the ride, according to Meehan. The girl’s name has not been released.

The young couple – described by Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols as younger versions of Bonnie and Clyde – led officers on a chase at speeds reaching 100 mph on Route 27 from the border crossing linking Coburn Gore and St.-Augustin-de-Woburn, Quebec.

That car later was found abandoned in Kingfield, about 50 miles from the border. The teens then stole another vehicle, a Dodge pickup truck, from a home in Kingfield, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland said in a press release.

They were caught after crashing the pickup and jumping 10 to 12 feet down a rocky embankment into the Carrabassett River in Kingfield, McCausland said.

McCausland said the girl has possible internal injuries from the drop and was in stable condition Wednesday at Maine Medical Center in Portland. No charges have been filed against her, he said.

Wittke is being held without bail on three felony charges. He has an Oct. 30 hearing scheduled in Farmington District Court.

Border Patrol agents fired shots at the fleeing car after it collided with two Border Patrol vehicles during the chase. Neither of the teens was hit by gunfire and neither fired back at authorities, police said Tuesday.

One of the agents was injured when his cruiser was rammed by the runaway teens, according to Keith Hoops, public affairs officer at the U.S. Border Patrol sector headquarters in Houlton.

He said the agent, whom he would not name, was taken to Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, where he was treated and released.

Hoops said the two Border Patrol cruisers were damaged in the collision but can be repaired.

Deputy Attorney General William Stokes said his agency’s staff is investigating the incident because of the Border Patrol agents’ use of deadly force.

A call to Brian Macmaster of the criminal investigation division, who is heading up that investigation, was not returned immediately Wednesday.

Wittke is on probation and wanted in Ontario on arrest warrants, said assistant Franklin County District Attorney Josh Robbins. He said he didn’t know what charges Wittke faces there.

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