A Lewiston police officer was justified in shooting at the tire of a front-end loader that two runaway 14-year-old boys stole and took for a joyride, the Maine attorney general’s office said.
Sgt. Derrick St. Laurent fired at the tire shortly after 5 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 12, as the front-end loader was being driven the wrong way in the northbound lanes of the Maine Turnpike, the report said. Although the officer did not hit the tire, the boys stopped and surrendered. Neither was injured.
By the time the teens were taken into custody, seven police cruisers from the Maine State Police, the Androscoggin Sheriff’s Office and the Lewiston police had pursued the stolen front-end loader. The property damaged or destroyed in the chase included 17 mailboxes in Litchfield, a parked car in Wales, a business sign, a car and a fire hydrant in Sabattus, a police cruiser in Lewiston and a car northbound on the turnpike that the driver narrowly escaped through the passenger door.
The incident that ended with St. Laurent firing his weapon began shortly before midnight on Sunday, Sept. 11, when the boys ran away from a Litchfield group home for juveniles, the report said. The pair stole the front-end loader and used it to run over and scoop up mailboxes on Plains Road and Upper Pond Road in Litchfield about 2 a.m. An Androscoggin County deputy caught up with the front-end loader on Sabattus Street in Lewiston. It was traveling erratically and against oncoming traffic.
St. Laurent and another Lewiston officer joined the chase in separate vehicles. St. Laurent passed the loader to try to slow it down and to alert oncoming traffic, the report said. The loader turned off of Sabattus Street onto Russell Street as the boys drove it through several residential neighborhoods, then turned onto Main Street and headed toward downtown Lewiston as dawn approached.
“The loader turned onto the Maine Turnpike and headed south,” the report said. “The operator swerved alternately from travel lane to passing lane, which prevented the police cruisers from passing it. The loader and cruisers continued south on the turnpike for about 10 miles until the loader crossed over to the northbound lane and drove south into oncoming traffic.
“The operator of the loader intentionally rammed a northbound car, which had pulled as far off the travel lane as possible,” the report continued. “The collision ripped open the left side of the car; the driver had to move to the passenger’s side in order to get out of the car.”
The chase concluded near mile 71 of the turnpike when St. Laurent fired at the tire.
Both boys admitted to stealing and operating the stolen loader at different times and committing other crimes. Each is confined to the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland until he turns 16.
Under Maine law, the attorney general’s office must determine if a shooting is justified each time an officer fires his or her weapon. The office has found every police shooting justified since it started handling such investigations in 1990.
In St. Laurent’s case, Attorney General Janet Mills concluded that at the time he fired his weapon it was reasonable for him to believe that deadly force was imminently threatened against motorists northbound on the turnpike.