A 23-year-old LaGrange man who stole two separate vehicles last spring — a Dexter police cruiser and a Toyota Celica belonging to a veteran of the Iraq War — and led authorities on a high-speed chase that ended when he crashed the Celica will serve five years of a 10-year sentence.
Appearing at the Penobscot Judicial Center on Wednesday afternoon, Tyler Tibbetts pleaded guilty to a half-dozen felony charges, including one that stemmed from an unrelated case in which he stole a vehicle in January 2018.
Besides his incarceration, Tibbetts faces three years of probation in connection with the May 11, 2018, chase and was ordered to pay $3,000 in restitution to the owner of the Toyota Celica that he stole and crashed after driving over police spikes. He was sentenced to an additional fourth year of probation for earlier criminal charges.
Judge John Lucy handed down that sentence after it was recommended by District Attorney Marianne Lynch, the lead prosecutor for Piscataquis and Penobscot counties.
The owner of the stolen Toyota Celica attended the sentencing. He didn’t speak before the court, but provided a victim impact statement that Lynch read.
In the statement, the owner said that he saved up to buy the Celica while serving in Iraq and that the car had helped him deal with the “aftermath” of his deployment. The owner also said that when he was younger, he got in trouble with the law after being involved in a high-speed car chase — before he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force — and told Tibbetts that he still had the option to make himself a better person.
During the sentencing in the Bangor courtroom, Tibbetts wore a red jail uniform and stood next to his attorney, Seth Harrow, in an area reserved for inmates. When given the option to talk, he looked at the Celica owner and said, “I want to apologize…for taking your vehicle. You didn’t deserve that.”
After the sentencing, the owner declined to talk with a reporter.
The two most serious charges to which Tibbetts pleaded guilty were Class B felonies: escape and theft by unauthorized taking. The four other charges were less serious Class C felonies: two counts of theft and single counts of eluding an officer and reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon.
Tibbetts also pleaded no contest to a Class C count of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, which was related to an AR-15 rifle that was in the police cruiser he stole, according to Lynch. During the proceeding, Harrow said that Tibbetts was not aware the weapon was in the cruiser.
Lynch mentioned several factors in her sentencing recommendation, including that Tibbetts endangered members of the public and law enforcement. She also chose to dismiss other charges that had originally been filed against him.
He fled from police on May 11, 2018, after they had arrested him on a Somerset County warrant for a probation violation, authorities have said. When Tibbetts was handcuffed in the back seat of a cruiser, he managed to squeeze through a window in the backseat partition and speed off.
Tibbetts then ditched the police cruiser in Garland, according to Lynch’s office. Hours later, police saw him driving the Celica and chased him until he crashed on Route 15 after hitting spike mats, according to the Penobscot County district attorney’s office. He was hospitalized for four days and arrested upon his release on May 15.
Given that Tibbetts is young but already has a sizable criminal record, Lynch also said that four years of supervised probation would hopefully give him time to turn his life around. That probation will come with several requirements, including that Tibbetts not use intoxicants and that he pursue mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Harrow said that there were several other mitigating factors that the judge should consider, including that Tibbetts had taken responsibility for his crimes and that his escape last May was not premeditated.