BLUE HILL — A 43-mile police pursuit that concluded in Blue Hill late Saturday morning began in Northport and ended in gunfire.
The incident resulted in charges for a Camden man whose family had called police about the man’s well-being, according to the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office.
Waldo County Sheriff’s Lt. Matthew C. Curtis said in a press release that the chase ended after a Searsport police officer fired rounds from his duty weapon — a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol — into the tires of the man’s car. The vehicle came to a halt on a narrow strip of lawn at Bar Harbor Bank & Trust on Main Street in Blue Hill.
Police took the motorist, James Thomas, 71, to a local hospital for an evaluation. Authorities summoned Thomas on charges of reckless conduct, which is a misdemeanor, and eluding a police officer, which is a felony.
Saturday’s incident was not typical behavior for Thomas.
“In a word, I’m incredulous that this is the same [James] Mac Thomas that I’ve known for the past five years,” said Geoff Scott, who is chairman of the town of Camden’s Pathways Committee.
The man is suffering from the effects of a brain tumor, according to a report in The Portland Press Herald.
Thomas has devoted several years as a volunteer on the town of Camden’s Pathways Committee.
“I recognized Mac as a worker and someone who could get things done so we collaborated on a number of Pathways projects over the past five years,” Scott said. “He was a key worker on three sections of the Riverwalk, either physically doing cleanup/maintenance, helping to write grant proposals, or out walking potential future pathway alignments.
“In fact, the committee just recognized all his work for Pathways at a recent Camden Select Board meeting by dedicating a granite bench to him that will be placed along the Riverwalk.”
Back to the police pursuit. Police officers along the 43-mile route tried to stop the car, a late model Toyota Corolla.
Searsport police deployed a tire deflation device, but that did not stop the car.
Bucksport Police were able to deploy such a device, which punctured the Corolla’s driver’s side tire, but Thomas kept on, driving on a rim.
Bucksport Police Sgt. David Winchester was in his office Saturday around 8:30 a.m. when he was alerted to the pursuit.
Winchester had just enough time to get the tire deflation tool set up before Thomas, with a Searsport officer in pursuit, drove over the Penobscot Narrows Bridge.
Bucksport uses a device called “stop sticks,” which are about 9 feet in length and are thrown across a roadway. A pulley is attached to one end so that the officer can quickly remove the sticks once the errant car passes over.
Winchester said businesses downtown were busy so he wanted to keep any involvement with the car on the Verona Island side of Route 1.
The Police Department closed the Verona Island-Bucksport bridge to through traffic until after Thomas’s vehicle hit the tire deflation device and kept going on Route 1.
The Maine State Police took over the pursuit once Thomas reached Blue Hill.
The Waldo County lieutenant said the incident began around 8 a.m. when the man’s family called for help.
“Deputies were told that a family member claimed the male was making irrational and threatening comments before driving away,” Curtis said.
A Waldo County deputy observed the car traveling north on Route 1 in Northport and tried to stop the car.
Thomas refused to stop and continued north on Route 1 in Belfast, Curtis said.
“Officers from the Belfast Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office were able to momentarily stop the vehicle on two occasions but each time the operator made reckless maneuvers to evade the officers,” Curtis said. “In the second incident, the operator nearly struck a Belfast police officer.”
Troopers cordoned much of Main Street in Blue Hill, closing off the town’s central artery, while investigators recorded details of the scene.
A Waldo County Sheriff’s Office truck was also involved and sustained a flat tire in the incident. Yellow police tape lined the area around the Blue Hill town office directly across from the crash site. Visitors and residents kept watch on the proceedings from the town office courtyard.
The Blue Hill Fire Department managed traffic control. Main Street was closed to through traffic between Bar Harbor Bank & Trust and the Blue Hill Library for over 90 minutes until 11:40 a.m. Saturday.