February 19

U.S. Border Patrol agent cleared for shooting at Canadian teens

The teenagers, who led a chase through Franklin County on Route 27, were not injured, but the attorney general investigates all cases of deadly force by law enforcement.

By Kaitlin Schroeder kschroeder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

A U.S. Border Patrol agent has been cleared by the Maine attorney general for shooting at a 16-year-old driver and his 14-year-old passenger when they barreled through the Canadian border at Coburn Gore, touching off a chase that ended with the teenagers crashing a truck into a river.

click image to enlarge

CLEARED: U.S. Border Patrol Agent Christopher Talbert, who fired shots at Zachary Wittke, pictured here in October leaving Franklin County Superior Court in Farmington, has been cleared of his use of deadly force.

Staff file photo by David Leaming

Attorney general’s report: Deadly force Justified in shooting

TO READ THE Office of the Attorney General’s report on a U.S. Border Patrol’s shooting at two Canadian teenagers who barreled through the border station at Coburn Gore in October and led law enforcement on a chase down Route 27, click here.

Christopher Talbert was investigated for shooting at, but not injuring, 16-year-old Zachary Wittke, of Eganville, Ontario, and a 14-year-old girl from Pembroke, Ontario, according to a press release Wednesday by the Maine Attorney General’s Office. The girl has not been identified by authorities.

Attorney General Janet Mills concluded it was reasonable for Talbert “to believe that deadly force was imminently threatened against him and, in fact, being used against him, and it was reasonable for him to believe that it was necessary for him to use deadly force to protect himself from Mr. Wittke’s actions.”’

On Oct. 14 at 8:15 p.m., the teens crashed through the gate at the Coburn Gore border crossing, driving a truck they had stolen in Ontario. A 50-mile chase down Route 27 through Franklin County ended when Wittke crashed into the Carrabassett River in Kingfield.

He was charged with multiple felonies and taken to Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston.

Wittke, who pleaded guilty to five charges and was granted a sentence of time already served in jail, was returned to Ontario to face additional charges there in connection with the incident.

Valerie Wittke has previously told the Morning Sentinel that her son suffers from mental health problems. Reached by phone Wednesday, she declined to comment on the attorney general’s findings.

The attorney general’s press release offers a detailed description of Talbert’s encounter with the fleeing teenagers. Talbert fired shots halfway through the chase when the truck driven by Wittke stopped in the opposite lane of Route 27 in Stratton, near the intersection with Pine Street.

Talbert stopped his cruiser 32 feet behind the Dodge Dakota and got out of the car to arrest them. While walking toward the truck, Talbert saw its backup lights flash on and saw it accelerate toward him in reverse.

Talbert went back into his cruiser, which the truck hit. Talbert fired six shots from his handgun through his windshield. Four rounds struck and shattered the rear window of the pickup, passed through the cab and struck the inside of its windshield. One round struck the truck tailgate, and another struck the driver side rear view mirror.

Talbert did not know when he fired the shots that the truck’s occupants were teenagers, the report said.

After the collision, Talbert was treated and released at Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington for injuries to his knee, shoulder, neck and back.

The 14-year-old, who was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland for treatment of internal injuries, was later taken back to Canada. She wasn’t charged.

The chase started Oct. 14 when U.S. Border Patrol Supervisory Agent William Hardt received a report of a port runner — someone who doesn’t stop at the border station — in a red truck at the Coburn Gore crossing. Hardt, based in Rangeley, alerted the other agents on duty, including Talbert, who radioed that he was about five minutes behind Hardt.

Hardt, driving north toward the border on Route 27, encountered the truck a couple miles south of the crossing. He turned on his lights and siren, but the truck sped off and he followed.

When Hardt got closer to the truck, Wittke hit the truck’s brakes several times in an apparent attempt to cause a crash, according to the release.

Wittke and Hardt passed Talbert, who had pulled over on the side of Route 27 farther south, and he joined the pursuit.

(Continued on page 2)

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