Three teenage inmates from a youth correctional center were apprehended Friday morning after allegedly escaping from a supervised camping retreat in the Carrabassett Valley area of Franklin County and later rolling over in a stolen sport utility vehicle, authorities said.

Police said the youths were caught around 10:30 a.m. in the South Portland area. They were inmates at the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, which is a rehabilitation correctional center for youths convicted of crimes.

The incident also has drawn concern from two top Franklin County police officials, who say they weren’t notified ahead of time that the Long Creek inmates were going to be in the area.

“I wasn’t even aware that this went on in our area,” Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols said later Friday, with surprise.

Authorities identified the teens from Long Creek as Christopher Harmon, 18, of Sanford, convicted of burglary and reckless conduct; Jonathan Vasselian, 18, of Sumner, there for gross sexual assault; and Jesse James Ramsdell, 19, of Acton, who was the driver, serving time for an assault conviction.

Maine State Police said Friday morning that the three escapees from Long Creek were back in custody after the stolen SUV they were in was involved in a short chase with troopers in South Portland, Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland said in a news release. The vehicle overturned after it rolled up on a snowbank, and the three youths were wearing seat belts and were not injured, McCausland said.

Carrabassett Valley police Chief Mark Lopez said that because the three teens are serving time for serious crimes — including rape, burglary and assault — he wishes that local authorities had been alerted to their presence in the area for the public’s safety. Lopez said area law enforcement agencies were not notified that young convicts would be camping in the area.

Even so, he was pleased with the communication among authorities as events unfolded, leading to their capture within four hours “and 300 miles of real estate” after escaping.

He said the communications system in Maine, including state police and Long Creek officials, worked very well.

“It’s disappointing for the Carrabassett Police Department to find out after the fact that we had inmates from Long Creek Correctional Facility in our jurisdiction and no one knew until they had committed several crimes and fled the area,” Lopez said by phone Friday morning. “It couldn’t actually (have) prevented it, but it would have been nice to know, for any purposes, that we have these people in our jurisdiction.”

He said alerting local authorities would have helped for the corrections officers’ safety. Had they been attacked, Lopez said, his department or Franklin County officials would have had no idea where they were or what they were talking about.

“Where are you? What are you talking about? There are inmates? Why are there inmates? We would have had no knowledge of that,” Lopez said. “They could have given us profiles of these individuals so that if something did happen, we would have already been on the ball with names and addresses of people that were up there.”

Nichols said his department was also not notified of the arrival of the Long Creek inmates.

“In the future, it would be professional courtesy to at least notify us where they are located, just in case a corrections staff member needed assistance,” Nichols said.

A Long Creek spokesman did not respond to requests for comment Friday. A woman who answered the phone in Long Creek Superintendent Jeff Merrill’s office deferred all questions about the incident to the office of Joseph Fitzpatrick, commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections. A message left at Fitzpatrick’s office was not returned Friday.

Lopez said earlier that the youths took off on foot about 7 a.m. Friday during the camping retreat at the Stratton Brook Hut, part of the Maine Huts and Trails system. They were in a group of six inmates and two supervisors.

After escaping, the teens allegedly then stole a black Nissan Xterra from a residence near the hut’s trailhead. The SUV belongs to a Raymond man who owns a residence in Carrabassett Valley.

In addition to the stolen vehicle, cash, wine and other items were taken from the Stratton Brook Huts, where the teens were staying with Long Creek staffers overnight. Authorities sent out an emergency bulletin with descriptions of the vehicle and teenagers shortly after 9 a.m.

The SUV was spotted in mid-morning along the Maine Turnpike in Falmouth, according to McCausland. Troopers tried to stop the vehicle after it went through the Maine Mall exit and it began to take off.

Attempting to end the pursuit before the SUV got into a heavily populated area, state police troopers performed a motor vehicle pushing maneuver called PIT, which brought the chase to an end, according to McCausland. The PIT maneuver, or precision immobilization technique, is a pursuit tactic in which a police cruiser can force a fleeing car to turn sideways abruptly, causing the driver to lose control and stop.

Lopez said the escape and the thefts of the items from the hut and the SUV occurred within his jurisdiction and he will confer with the Franklin County district attorney’s office about possible charges. He said if the teens are to be charged with escape, that will be up to Long Creek officials. There could be charges of eluding brought by state police involving the brief chase and the forced stop in Falmouth.

McCausland said the three were charged with unauthorized use of property and taken to the Cumberland County jail.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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