Stacks of holiday mail spilled out of the truck. The letters and packages didn’t belong to the three people in the cab.
Tacoma police officers, chasing a tip from an alert neighbor, stopped the truck early Thursday morning in Federal Way in the 2100 block of Southwest 356th Street, just across the Pierce-King county line. They found mail and packages seemingly lifted from addresses throughout the area, and as far north as Seattle. Investigators, still going through the evidence, guessed as many as 30 victims, Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said.
The call came in shortly after 3:30 a.m. The neighbor reported seeing a white pickup truck with U-Haul graphics in the area. The passengers were filching mail.
An officer on patrol in the area heard the call and saw a white pickup drive by: a 2012 Ford F150 with Arizona plates and U-Haul graphics.
The officer followed the truck and flagged it down, according to a police report. A 38-year-old Burien man was driving. He had two female passengers. One was 21, from Seattle. The other was 26, from Burien – or so it seemed. All three smoked, passing cigarettes to each other and looking edgy.
The driver said he and the two women had been visiting the Emerald Queen Casino in Fife and gotten lost on their way back to Des Moines.
An officer asked for the rental agreement tied to the truck. The man said he didn’t have it. The officer asked if there was any mail in the truck. The man said no.
The officer asked the man to step out of the car. Mail fell out when he opened the door. Stacks of mail bulged from the driver’s door pocket. More mail sat in the middle of the seats, including a package with an Amazon label. The driver had been sitting on some of it.
Officers cuffed the man. He said the mail wasn’t his. A friend had borrowed the truck earlier in the day and left it there.
Seated in a patrol car, the man claimed he’d just swallowed a gram of “black” heroin and wasn’t feeling so well. Officers called for medical aid.
The 21-year-old woman said the driver was her boyfriend. She said he was abusive. The mail was in the truck when he picked her up, she said. She said they’d decided to go pick up some more.
“She fully admitted to the mail theft,” the report states.
The woman added that she, too, had just swallowed an ounce of heroin.
The third woman was a mystery. Asked for identification, she handed officers a Wal-Mart card and a job application from Nordstrom, saying she didn’t have other ID with her. She gave several names. Officers ran one of them and came up empty. They ran another and came up with an active arrest warrant.
Medical aid arrived and transported the 38-year-old and the 21-year-old to the hospital. Both refused treatment and left, the report states.
Why weren’t the two arrested after leaving the hospital? Cool and fellow police spokesman Mark Fulghum said it was partly a matter of procedure. Medical aid crews decide whether treatment is warranted, they said.
The man and the woman had provided addresses and names that checked out, making it possible to seek them out later, Cool said. While the mail and packages appeared to be stolen, investigators have to prove it first; if the information leads to a charge of mail theft, federal authorities from the U.S. Postal Service have a voice in potential charging decisions.
“We’re not going to sit in the hospital,” Cool said. “We know how to find them.”
The third woman was arrested on the outstanding warrant and booked into the Pierce County Jail on suspicion of obstructing justice and providing false information to a police officer. At booking, she gave yet another name, one that appeared to be more credible, according to the police report.
Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486