Police: Trio playing “Pokémon Go” help catch suspected thieves

Pokemon Go uses players’ locations and landmarks, and superimposes the virtual characters so the players search for them in the real world.
Pokemon Go uses players’ locations and landmarks, and superimposes the virtual characters so the players search for them in the real world. AP

Three men playing “Pokémon Go” until 3 a.m. helped police catch two pickup theft suspects early Friday, July 15, by starting what ended up as a 12-mile pursuit from Bellingham to Wiser Lake.

The trio in their early 20s had been driving home from playing the wildly popular smartphone game around 3:20 a.m. when they saw a man run from a parked car to the Northwest Chevrolet of Bellingham at 3891 Northwest Ave., according to police.

They then saw a truck’s lights flick on in the dealership, and a red 2012 Dodge Ram quad cab with dealer plates pulled onto Northwest, said Bellingham Police Lt. Bob Vander Yacht.

The men dialed 911 and tailed the pickup as it motored north out of the city with the headlights off. About a mile north of the dealership, the driver pulled onto Trout Lake Drive, a dead end. Dispatchers told the men not to follow the truck down the road, and moments later the truck emerged again and sped north on Northwest, Vander Yacht said. The men kept following in their car.

A Whatcom County sheriff’s deputy caught up to the Dodge once it reached Slater Road. The driver barreled through stop signs at speeds over 100 mph, according to police dispatch records. Over the next 10 miles speeds dipped to 80 mph, to 60 mph and to 30 mph, as the road grew more rural, more curvy and harder to see.

The truck driver kept braking at side roads but continued on Northwest until the route bends east and turns into Wiser Lake Road, according to dispatch logs. The Dodge Ram averted spike strips that police had set up to take out the truck’s tires and drove east through the roundabout on Guide Meridian and past the lake.

Ten minutes into the chase, the deputy tried a PIT maneuver – tapping a corner of his patrol car into a corner of the truck to get it to spin out – and stopped the Dodge Ram in the 500 block of East Wiser Lake, in a quiet neighborhood. The truck had front-end damage and pieces of wood stuck in the grill, from striking a wooden fence at some point in the pursuit, Vander Yacht said.

Once the stolen truck was disabled, the driver complied with police, Vander Yacht said. Officers arrested the 17-year-old boy. His recent court records list an address on Wiser Lane, off the lake’s north shore. Generally, The Bellingham Herald doesn’t identify minors accused of crimes.

The teen was booked into the Whatcom County juvenile detention on suspicion of attempting to elude police and auto theft. His 19-year-old sister was arrested, too, around 5 a.m. on suspicion of complicity to auto theft and driving under the influence, Vander Yacht said. She is suspected of driving her brother to the dealership to steal the car.

Asked if this means local police give a ringing endorsement to “Pokémon Go,” Vander Yacht said he doesn’t know much about the game, except that you can’t play at home.

“So it’s kind of getting people out in the real world a little more,” he said.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb