BANGOR, Maine — Patricia McLaughlin decided five years ago she wanted to do something more than serve the community as a Maine State Police dispatcher.
“I did some ride alongs with some of the different troopers. I decided I wanted to give that a try,” said the grandmother of four.
Flash forward to the past year: Now a patrol deputy for the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office, McLaughlin stopped a murderer on Interstate 95 and got a confession out of him before he killed himself; conducted a vehicle search that led to the seizure of more than 4,000 marijuana plants; and was honored by the federal government for finding a vehicle fleeing an armed pharmacy robbery, leading to the apprehension of the suspect.
Her co-workers in uniform took notice, said Sheriff Glenn Ross, which is why McLaughlin recently was named Penobscot County Deputy of the Year.
“I call her ‘magnet’ because everything seems to end up with her,” the sheriff said recently. “She’s been a great asset for the department.”
McLaughlin, 49, was nominated for the honor by her peers and selected by the management team in late August, Ross said.
“She’s a tremendous officer, not only because of her professionalism and knowledge of the job — her personality is just fabulous,” Deputy Chief Troy Morton said Monday.
McLaughlin, who has a fifth grandchild on the way, also has an instinct about people and situations that makes her a top law enforcement officer, Morton said.
“Intuition. You can’t teach people to have intuition,” Morton said. “Being a hard worker and following her senses has made her a very good investigator. We have more of an investigative mindset [at the sheriff’s office] because we work in rural areas. And Patty just excels at that.”
McLaughlin covers northern Penobscot County, where her instinct frequently has been tested.
“She has an outstanding record of solving burglary investigations marked by her tenacity, desire to solve crimes and ability to obtain information,” Ross said. “By being alert she has solved numerous important crimes.”
McLaughlin started her career in law enforcement as a state police dispatcher, a post she held between 2004 and 2008.
She went to the police academy and was hired in February 2008 by the Lincoln Police Department. She left that job when she joined the sheriff’s office in December 2010. She now is one of a dozen female patrol deputies statewide and the only woman on the streets for the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office, Ross said.
“We have many in the jail, but she is the only [female] patrol deputy,” the sheriff said.
Following her gut
McLaughlin said that in the three cases that Ross mentioned as showing her abilities, she just followed her gut.
She happened upon a U-Haul in March that state police were looking for in connection with a missing person report in Lakeville. Little did she know she’d be involved in a four-hour standoff on Interstate 95.
McLaughlin had dealt with the driver, Lynda Dube, and her husband of 10 days, Bruce King, in the month before when she arrested him for an outstanding warrant.
“That was an intense one,” the deputy said. “That was the day I learned to always check your instincts. I had dealt with them before [but] for some reason the hairs stood up on the back of my neck.
“I was going to stop the car, but everything inside of me said, ‘Don’t do that,’” McLaughlin said. “I told dispatch that I had eyes on the vehicle, but I would wait for backup.”
She and Deputy Mike Knights later stopped the U-Haul just south of Exit 227 near Lincoln in the southbound lanes of I-95. They didn’t know that King was armed.
“I looked in the passenger’s side mirror and observed the barrel of a rifle,” she said. “Bruce was sitting in the passenger seat with the rifle leveled at the driver’s side window. I yelled to Deputy Knights but he couldn’t hear me over the interstate traffic. At that point, Lynda bolted from the U-Haul screaming, ‘He’s got a gun, he’s got a gun!
She could see in the mirror that King, who had a .30-30 caliber rifle, had turned the gun on himself and was holding it to his head.
She used her cruiser’s PA system to ask him to call her on his cellphone.
“Because he had that connection with me, he knew who I was, I think that is why he agreed to call me,” McLaughlin said. “I asked him why he was so upset and he told me he had committed a murder.”
King told her he forced Lawrence Lewis of Molunkus Township to swallow two bottles of nitroglycerin and one bottle of “psych meds,” according to a search warrant affidavit released at Lincoln District Court in the days after the murder-suicide.
“King said he had reported Lewis for molesting children and no one was doing anything,” the affidavit states.
“We were on the phone for about two hours until my battery went dead,” McLaughlin said. “At that point, he tossed his phone out the window.”
Shortly afterward, he took his own life.
“There were moments when I thought maybe I had talked him out of it,” she said.
When the deputy thinks back on the situation, it’s a reminder to follow her gut.
“To this day, I ask myself what would have happened if I hadn’t trusted my instincts? What would have happened if myself or any other officer had done a routine traffic stop and approached the driver’s side door?” McLaughlin said. “Those questions continue to haunt me but also remind me to never become complacent.”
McLaughlin just happened to be on duty about 30 miles away when Nicholas Skoby, 29, of Rockport, armed with a 9 mm handgun, robbed the Rite Aid pharmacy in Millinocket on Aug. 29, 2011. Her response earned her recognition by the U.S. attorney for Maine in April.
Skoby fled in a car with Timothy Ray Ashlock, 28, of Holden and Christina Irish, 25, of Millinocket.
“I was on patrol in the Lincoln area and heard the attempt to locate on the suspect vehicle,” McLaughlin said, recalling the incident. “I chose Route 116 in Chester because I knew no one else [in law enforcement] was on that route. I just lucked out.”
When she saw the car, “I turned on it and they took off on me so I knew I had the right car,” the deputy said. “There was sort of a high-speed chase, then they ditched the car and took off into the woods. They left the female in the car.”
The car stopped in the middle of Mattamiscontis Road and McLaughlin took Irish into custody.
“We had information they had a handgun. I got her somewhere safe just in case they started firing rounds,” she said.
An intensive manhunt took place that involved the Lincoln, Millinocket and East Millinocket police departments, the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department, the Maine State Police, the Maine Warden Service as well as tracking dogs and a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter that quickly spotted the still-armed Skoby and took him into custody about 40 minutes after the robbery. Ashlock was arrested about 12 hours later.
Skoby pleaded guilty in February 2012 and was sentenced to 11 years and nine months in federal prison for the armed robbery. Ashlock and Irish both were convicted and ordered to pay a $400 fine and spend 10 days in jail for their roles in the robbery, the BDN archives state.
For her quick thinking and actions during the robbery, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in April awarded the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office with a Certificate of Outstanding Contribution honor, Ross said.
The Deputy of the Year and the sheriff said a routine call back in May led to information about a huge marijuana growing operation in Enfield.
“It was a disorderly complaint and I located over an ounce of marijuana in his vehicle and [learned] that he had a grow at his house,” McLaughlin said, referring to Richard Kuhaneck, 41.
Three days later, agents with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, other law enforcement and Deputy McLaughlin raided Kuhaneck’s home on Dodlin Road.
“We found 4,196 plants,” she said. “They were anywhere from 6 inches to 2 feet tall. They were getting ready to be transplanted.”
Kuhaneck was charged with Class B cultivation, and McLaughlin said she expects the case to be presented to the Penobscot County grand jury for indictment in October.
McLaughlin also recently helped to keep a bag full of drugs off the streets, just by being observant, the sheriff said.
“One deputy was serving a search warrant [and] someone in the building put the drugs in a bag and threw them up on the roof,” Ross said. “She saw it. She was positioned outside.”
McLaughlin has demonstrated her exceptional law enforcement abilities through multiple investigations and her involvement in solving serious crimes, the sheriff said.
The deputy said her family never questioned her decision to go to the police academy five years ago and has supported her every step along the way, even cleaning her house while she was in school.
The deputy said she loves the job because, “It’s something different every day. You just never know what you’re going to come across.”
“It think it’s an ongoing challenge and I’m continually learning new things,” she said. “The adrenaline rush is just an added bonus.”
McLaughlin said she couldn’t do her job without the people she works with, and that is why she finds being singled out for recognition difficult.
“This is an individual award but everything I did, all those calls we talked about, were a team effort,” McLaughlin said. “It doesn’t feel right to get an individual award for things you didn’t do by yourself.
“When I am in a mess like that — they are there,” she said. “I look around and they’re all there to back me. I have got the best crew in the county. This just speaks to my crew.
“That really makes me feel proud.”