June 8, 2012

Crime spree nets Bass Harbor man five years in prison

He stole three vehicles in one night, crashing one of them into a house

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- A Bass Harbor man will spend five years in prison for stealing three vehicles in one night and crashing one of them into a house, which caught fire and forced the homeowners from their beds.

The crime spree started in Winslow, tore through Augusta and ended when Jacob D. Russell, 27, was halted in the third stolen vehicle by a Pittsfield police officer.

Russell pleaded guilty Thursday in Kennebec County Superior Court to a series of charges, including aggravated criminal mischief and four thefts, as well as burglary of a motor vehicle, leaving the scene of an accident and operating after suspension, all of which occurred May 22 and 23, 2011.

In exchange for the pleas, a charge of arson and six other charges were dismissed by the prosecution.

During Thursday's hearing, Assistant District Attorney Paul Rucha said Russell first stole a Toyota Corolla from a home on Vassalboro Road, Winslow, and abandoned it in Augusta, leaving his backpack behind.

The Corolla owners didn't realize the car had been stolen until police called to say it had been found after a homeowner heard a crash close to his home.

Russell then stole a pickup truck about a mile away and crashed it at about 6 a.m. into the guest bedroom of the Riverside Drive home owned by Ken and Linda Ward. The truck dropped into the basement and caught fire, and the flames quickly spread, destroying the home. The Wards got out unscathed, but their cat died in the fire.

The crash was witnessed by a passing driver, who saw a pickup truck swerve toward him and then go across the road and smash into the house. The passerby saw the driver of the pickup, whose face was bloody, run from the scene of the crash, tearing his clothes off.

Two other people saw the fleeing man holding a bloody T-shirt to his face.

Russell stole a Carhartt sweatshirt from another vehicle on Riverside Drive, leaving his blood-stained T-shirt behind.

Then he stole the third vehicle, which the owner had left running outside her Augusta home.

She came outside to see it being backed from the driveway, and she and her boyfriend gave chase with a second vehicle to Interstate 95 before getting a flat tire.

A Pittsfield officer heard the 911 report about the stolen vehicle, and stopped it, finding the driver, wearing the Carhartt sweatshirt and with a fresh open wound to his jaw. At the time, Russell admitted stealing the car he was driving.

After Russell was treated at a hospital, he was taken to jail, Rucha said.

A year later, Russell had no obvious scars on his face as he stood with his hands clasped behind his back and told Justice Michaela Murphy he understood his rights.

Rucha outlined the sentence, which was recommended by both the state and Russell's attorney, Lisa Whittier.

Russell will spend five years in prison, followed by a series of suspended sentences and two years of probation.

He was also ordered to pay $1,220 restitution for some of the items stolen and destroyed.

None of the victims came to the hearing, however, Rucha said they were all notified of it as well as the proposed sentencing arrangement.

One man whose vehicle was stolen "feels the defendant was lucky he didn't wind up killing three people," Rucha said.

He also said the home that was destroyed has since been rebuilt, and the Wards did not seek restitution.

Whittier also told the judge that Russell might face an unrelated charge of trafficking in prison contraband stemming from an incident at Two Bridges Jail in Wiscasset recently.

Betty Adams -- 621-5631

badams@centralmaine.com

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