This story sounds like it came right out of the Wild West.

And it demonstrates the dangers that police officers can be in each and every day doing their job.

What some people will do to avoid capture is unbelievable and sometimes civilians and officers are severely injured or killed. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt or killed in this episode, but a cruiser and a stolen vehicle were destroyed.

It all started innocently enough when two people from Hancock County crossed paths. One was an elderly well-to-do gentleman who had a nice home and possessions.

The other was a spoiled young charmer who wanted to get rich quick. The younger man saw the older gentleman as an easy target for robbery.

Late one night, the young man put his plan into action. He went to the older gentleman’s residence on the ocean, tied up the man and his wife, rummaged through the home and stole whatever he wanted and whatever he thought would bring a good price.

Lastly, he took the gentleman’s Mercedes-Benz. It was a nice little coupe that was fast and maneuverable — certainly capable of outperforming our cruisers.

Leaving the couple tied up, the young man headed along the peninsula to a route that would get him out of the area. There was one problem: he didn’t tie them up quite tight enough and the couple freed themselves fairly quickly. Police responded to the residence and after a preliminary investigation, a bulletin was put out over the police radio to be on the lookout for the stolen Mercedes.

Bucksport Police spotted the vehicle and tried to stop the driver. But the young man had other ideas, outran the cruiser and headed into Waldo County.

The suspect was flying south on Route 1 and each police department commenced to try to pull over the motorist, with no success. The driver of the Mercedes ran through roadblocks and avoided apprehension.

Not only had the young man committed felonies at the original site of the robbery, but each time he ran a roadblock, he was committing another felony. It was getting more serious as he kept fleeing.

In Belfast, the young man again ran a roadblock. Belfast had more than one cruiser and the chase continued along Route 3 toward Augusta. The Belfast officers could not overtake the fast Mercedes, but they could keep it in sight.

A call was placed to Maine State Police headquarters in Augusta. Trooper Tom Ballard’s residence was south of the chase. Tom was asleep when the phone rang, alerting him to the chase that was coming right at him.

Ballard jumped up, threw on his uniform, and took off in his cruiser. He made it to the end of his road as it intersects with Route 3 just in time to see the blue lights of the approaching Belfast cruisers.

Tom pulled out and got his speed up to stay in front of the suspect vehicle. As his speed increased to well over the speed limit. Tom did his best to keep the Mercedes behind him, but to no avail.

The Mercedes driver pulled alongside the cruiser and the young man rammed the side of Ballard’s car, trying to force him off the road. Tom was fighting to stay on the road, and he was struck again. This time the bumpers locked together and both vehicles, with the Mercedes in the lead, left the road, went into a ditch and hit small trees, causing both vehicles to roll. The Mercedes rolled on its roof and Ballard’s cruiser rolled on its side.

The two vehicles came to rest and Tom thought this would be his time grab the guy. Tom tried to unlatch his seat belt, but couldn’t.  He was so twisted and hung up with his weight against the seat belt that it would not release. All Tom could do was watch as the suspect jumped out of the Mercedes and took off on foot. Belfast police officers helped get Tom out of his cruiser, but they didn’t catch the bad guy that night.

The next morning, I came back on duty from a day off. Before signing on, I received a call from Maine State Police headquarters in Augusta of a burglary in the Belmont area. I had no idea of the happenings from the night before, but a dispatcher filled me in on the details of the chase and where it had ended. This burglary could well be connected to the robbery suspect.

I went to the residence of the reported burglary and met with the homeowner. He had heard about what had happened in the neighborhood the previous night and thought that this burglary might be related.

The homeowner had an outbuilding used primarily for storage with a bed and some clothes. There were wet clothes on the floor that had obviously been put there recently. The homeowner knew what clothes were missing from the building, and this gave us a new description of the suspect and what he would be wearing. The clothes left behind matched the description of the clothes worn by the suspect involved in the high-speed chase.

I was parked in the driveway of the residence of the burglary just feet from Route 3 and was clearly visible to traffic passing by. I was outside the cruiser talking with the victim when a passerby stopped. He interrupted my conversation to give me some information.

“Are you one of the troopers that are looking for a robbery suspect?” he asked.

“I am, but how in the world would you know about us looking for a robbery suspect?” I asked.

“Well, I live in scanner land and have been listening to the police radio traffic all morning. I just want you to know that I was at the 10-4 diner in Montville and a young man who was very nervous approached me wanting a ride. I refused him, but when I got back in my car and heard all the traffic, I thought this might be your guy. Actually, I am quite positive it is the guy you’re looking for.”

“What’s he wearing?” I asked.

The passerby described a man wearing the clothes that were missing from the burglary scene. The passerby said he had left the 10-4 Diner within the previous 10 minutes.

I was quite sure the young man at the 10-4 diner was our guy. I put the information over the radio and fortunately Trooper Louis Nyitray was in the right place at the right time.

Nyitray later told me that he could not have gotten the information at a more opportune time. He was minutes from the restaurant on Route 3 and as he approached, a man fitting the description of the suspect was actually coming out the door of the diner.

Nyitray pulled into the parking lot and stopped within 50 feet or so of the suspect. With his gun drawn, Nyitray ordered the suspect to get down. Long story short, it was the person for whom we were looking. With assistance from the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office, the suspect was taken into custody and transported to Waldo County Jail.

There is a moral to this story, sad as it is. Unfortunately, it is a mistake to become friendly too quickly with people we don’t know. The elderly gentleman thought he was helping a younger man, but all that really happened was the elderly gentleman became an irresistible target for the suspect. Please be careful out there.

Just another day in the life.

Mark Nickerson is a retired Maine State Police Trooper who lives in Unity. The 28-year veteran and award-winning columnist may be reached at menick@uninet.net.