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Originally published September 23, 2009 at 12:18 AM | Page modified September 23, 2009 at 11:20 AM

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Camano Island teen expands crime spree, sheriffs say

The elusive teenage burglar who has frustrated authorities on Camano Island for nearly a year and a half is now suspected of taking his one-man crime wave to the San Juan Islands, where he is being blamed for late-night break-ins, boat heists and even the theft of two airplanes.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Timeline

Feb. 9, 2004: Colton Harris-Moore, age 12, is convicted of third-degree possession of stolen property in Snohomish County and is sentenced to 11 days in jail. Over the next three years he is convicted of other crimes including theft, burglary, malicious mischief and fourth-degree assault.

June 14, 2007: Harris-Moore, then 16, pleads guilty to three counts of residential burglary in Island County and is sentenced to nearly three years at Green Hill School in Chehalis.

February 2008: Harris-Moore is transferred to Griffin Home, a minimum-security facility in Renton.

April 2008: Harris-Moore escapes.

July 17, 2008: When an Island County sheriff's deputy tries to stop a stolen Mercedes-Benz believed to be driven by Harris-Moore, the driver jumps from the moving car and escapes. Harris-Moore is also suspected in dozens of burglaries on Camano Island.

November 2008: Harris-Moore is suspected of stealing a Cessna 182 from a hangar on Orcas Island. The plane is found on the Yakama Nation reservation.

March 2009: Island County Juvenile Deputy Prosecutor Peter Simpson charges Harris-Moore with 10 criminal counts for an alleged 2008 spree on Camano Island. Simpson said charges include vehicle theft, attempting to elude police, malicious mischief, identity theft, theft and possession of stolen property.

September 2009: Harris-Moore is linked to a string of recent thefts and burglaries in the San Juan Islands. He is also a person of interest in three burglaries in Point Roberts, Whatcom County.

Today: San Juan County Sheriff Bill Cumming will speak about the recent break-ins blamed on Harris-Moore at 5 p.m. at San Juan County Fire Protection District, 45 Lavender Lane, Eastsound, Orcas Island.

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The elusive teenage burglar who has frustrated authorities on Camano Island for nearly a year and a half is now suspected of taking his one-man crime wave to the San Juan Islands, where he is being blamed for late-night break-ins, boat heists and even the theft of two airplanes.

Colton Harris-Moore, 18, a fugitive since he walked out of a Renton juvenile-security facility in April 2008, is the focus of a manhunt on Orcas Island following a recent string of burglaries and thefts, some of them caught on surveillance video.

"He's more than a menace," San Juan County Sheriff Bill Cumming said Tuesday. "He's an incredible liability to people's safety."

Authorities believe Harris-Moore is responsible for 14 thefts and burglaries in the San Juans, mostly on Orcas Island. Cumming also suspects Harris-Moore stole a boat on Sept. 13 and took it to Point Roberts, in Whatcom County, where several subsequent burglaries are now being investigated.

Cumming believes Harris-Moore showed up in the San Juans last November, when he allegedly stole a Cessna 182 from an Orcas Island hangar. The teen is suspected of flying the single-engine plane to Eastern Washington, where he made a "hard landing" on the Yakama Indian Reservation.

On Sept. 11, Harris-Moore allegedly stole an experimental aircraft from Friday Harbor and flew it to Orcas Island, where it, too, made a "hard landing."

The following night, the teen escaped arrest when he ran from a San Juan County sheriff's deputy who was patrolling the Orcas Island town of Eastsound, Cumming said.

"He was quite athletic and outran the officer and outmaneuvered him into a wooded area," Cumming said. "He laughed out loudly when he realized he was successful escaping from that officer."

Lance Evans, of Eastsound, said he can't recall a time when the island was more abuzz about crime. A community meeting is planned for this evening on Orcas Island to discuss the recent spate of break-ins.

"Gosh, if this proves to be this career young criminal who is disrupting the island and its residents, it's a bit shocking and surprising," said Evans, executive director of the Eastsound Chamber of Commerce. "It's a very kind of peaceful, laid-back kind of community. People get in the habit of being a bit too casual in their personal or business safety."

Camano Island crimes

Harris-Moore has long been considered Camano Island's most-wanted fugitive.

His record goes back to 2004. He is wanted on an arrest warrant for escaping from Griffin Home, a minimum-security facility in Renton.

Island County authorities said that after his escape from the Renton facility, Harris-Moore returned to Camano Island, which experienced an increase in burglaries at the vacation homes that dot the island.

He's also wanted for failing to appear in court on 10 criminal counts he was charged with in Island County in March. Those charges, filed in adult court, stem from his alleged summer 2008 crime spree on Camano Island, which included burglaries and one car theft.

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown has said he believes Harris-Moore is now working harder than ever to avoid arrest because conviction could result in prison time, not time in a juvenile facility.

Harris-Moore's mother, Pam Koehler of Camano Island, calls the new allegations against her son "crap."

"I know for a fact he is not doing all of these crimes," Koehler said Tuesday. "Anytime the cops can't catch whoever is doing them, they blame it on Colt."

Koehler concedes her son has been interested in flying, but insists he has never taken flight lessons.

Island County sheriff's Detective Ed Wallace said the teen may have learned the basics of flying by reading flight-training manuals and searching the Internet.

Wallace said that in several of the home burglaries on South Camano Island, investigators have found that computers were used to search for information about flying. Cumming said a credit card stolen in one recent burglary was used to purchase flight manuals.

Gordon Alvord, who runs Rainier Flight School out of Boeing Field, said he has never heard of anybody learning to fly without taking lessons, but concedes it's possible.

"It would be highly unlikely he would understand the concepts of manipulating the controls properly," said Alvord, a pilot. "It's a big difference from understanding how things work and practical knowledge."

Alvord and two other local pilots said an untrained pilot would likely have the most difficulty during landings. In both plane thefts blamed on Harris-Moore, the planes were damaged in hard landings, Cumming said.

Authorities found vomit in the cockpit of the airplane that landed on the reservation and have submitted a sample to the state crime lab to determine whether Harris-Moore was behind the heist, Cumming said.

Point Roberts break-ins

Whatcom County Chief Criminal Deputy Jeff Parks said deputies in Point Roberts want to question Harris-Moore in connection with three recent burglaries at vacation homes there, most recently on Saturday.

Harris-Moore is also suspected of stealing a boat from Orcas Island on Sept. 8. It was later recovered in Friday Harbor.

Cumming said San Juan County authorities initially dubbed the perpetrator of the recent spate of break-ins the "barefoot burglar," because surveillance video showed a young man without shoes. It wasn't until recently, after comparing notes with their Island County counterparts, that San Juan County deputies realized their "barefoot burglar" might be Harris-Moore.

Cumming said it appears the teen has been living in the woods and inside at least one vacant home on Orcas Island he is accused of burglarizing.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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