Theft subjects set up camp

A Coupeville man who was looking for burglars recently discovered an elaborate encampment where two homeless young Coupeville adults and a couple of their friends had been living in the county’s Rhododendron Park.

A 24-year-old and an 18-year-old man were arrested on suspicion of possession of stolen property May 24. The 18-year-old and 22-year-old women who were camping with the men were taken into custody but later released.

Possible felony charges against the two men are pending.

Island County Chief Deputy Investigator Russ Lindner said that someone burglarized a shop at a gravel pit near the Rhododendron Park last week and stole tools and other equipment.

The owner of the pit, Coupeville resident Curt Youderian, started asking around about the burglaries and learned that some young people were living in the woods. So he and an employee walked around the woods last Thursday night.

Lindner said the men were about to give up on the search when Youderian saw a small screwdriver — that had been stolen from his shop — lying on the ground. Youderian found the secluded encampment shortly afterward, deep in the woods far from the park’s official campsites. They left and called law enforcement.

Lindner said deputies decided to wait until the next morning to go to the camp in hopes of catching the campers sleeping. And that’s exactly what happened.

The deputies found the two couples asleep in two different tents. Lindner said the campers’ “compound” was surrounded by a fence made by netting. Trees had been chopped down to create lean-tos over the tents. There was a can hanging from the gate as a make-shift burglar alarm.

“It was pretty creative,” Lindner said. “I told one of the kids, ‘you have talent as a carpenter. You might want to get a job’.”

But in addition, Lindner said deputies found tools that had been stolen from the gravel pit shop, as well as a tent and a cook stove that were stolen from a woman camping at Rhododendron Park. The men also allegedly admitted to stealing items from the concession stand at the nearby ballpark and taking signs from the same park.

The 24-year-old man told investigators that he was homeless and had been living in the park for quite some time. Before allegedly stealing the tent, he had been living under a tarp. The man told Lindner that he put up the netting to protect himself from wild beasts.

“He said he heard a coyote sniffing at the tent one night,” Lindner said.

“It was a 24-year-old kid who fell on hard times and was just trying to get by.”

The man’s 22-year-old girlfriend also came to live with him in the woods after she became homeless. The man’s 18-year-old friend thought it would be “neat” to camp out, Lindner said, so he started staying at the encampment semi-regularly. He brought his 18-year-old girlfriend.

The two men could be facing felony possession of stolen property charges, Lindner said, if the value of the items they allegedly stole totalled over $250.

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