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Jokester's family escapes penalties

The family of the young man whose practical joke led to a nearly six-hour manhunt may not have to pay for expenses incurred by the Sequim Police Department during their search.

"We don't know yet, but we're working on it," said Sequim attorney Craig Ritchie.

The boy, while dining at the

Sequim Applebee's on Dec. 28 with his father and a friend, left a Crayola-scrawled note underneath his half-finished plate, reading "Help Me." Applebee's employees, upon finding the note, contacted the Sequim Police Department at approximately 1:17 p.m.

Believing that the note might be genuine, nine officers spent six hours checking local motels and shopping centers as well as interviewing witnesses and scouring the area for any signs of the boy. A charge slip from the restaurant eventually enabled officers to check driver's license information and vehicle registration, leading to Gig Harbor where the boy was found safe in the care of his father. According to Sequim Chief of Police Robert Spinks, a rough estimate of direct costs to the police department would be $2,500, but this does not account for any of the other agencies that were involved.

Since then the boy has made a written apology for his joke turned sour and has met with city manager Bill Elliot, along with his father who offered to reimburse the city for some or all of the costs associated with looking for his son. The police ended up not charging the boy with any crime, which according to Spinks, would make it more difficult to present the family with a bill.

"In this case, since we have decided not to pursue formal charges, then we would look for specific statutory authority to bill for our time and investigation and there is not a clear-cut statute that would allow for that," Spinks explained in a recent e-mail.

Spinks says that the whole incident should prove a learning experience for the young man, and that his officers acted correctly and professionally from beginning to end.

"The community should know that we take all reports of potential criminal activity seriously and especially when there is a belief that a person is at risk," Spinks said.



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