Car break-ins lead to prison sentence

6:32 pm October 12th, 2012

The second half of a car thief team that victimized Mount Rainier National Park visitors is on his way to prison.

Matthew J. Mortinson, 35, was sentenced in federal court Sept.  9 to two years and two months and three years of supervised release. He also was ordered to pay $7,034 in restitution for more than a dozen car prowls at the park two years ago.

His accomplice,  Pamela N. Williams, 25, received the same sentence in April. She pleaded guilty last December.

According to U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, and his co-defendant, Mortinson, who is Medford, Ore., and Williams broke into vehicles parked at trailheads in May and June 2010. They stole computers, credit cards and other valuables such as passports and outdoors equipment.

Some victims had been away from their cars for only an hour when the break-ins occurred.  In each case, Mortinson and Williams got into the vehicles by smashing windows or removing canopies from the backs of pickup trucks, authorities said.

At Mortinson’s sentencing in court in Tacoma, U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle asked if he had read the statements from the victims, describing how the thefts had impacted them.

“You can’t understand the impact on the victims of your conduct.”  Settle told Mortinson. “It is a serious interference with the quality of their lives. The sentence imposed is to deter you and others from similar conduct.”

Prosecutors said some victims lost items of sentimental value, including irreplaceable photos stored on a laptop computer. Others reportedly expressed the loss of a sense of security at Mount Rainier as a result of the thefts.

Mortinson was arrested after a traffic stop revealed a warrant for his arrest in Oregon. After he was jailed in Pierce County, further investigation linked Mortinson and Williams to the break-ins. Some of the stolen items were found during a police search of Williams’ residence.

The case is the latest justice for vehicle break-ins in the park. Another pair of car burglars were caught in the act inside the park last year.

A 39-year-old man and a 44-year-old woman, both from Enumclaw, were arrested after a park ranger watched them smash their way into a car at a trailhead in a sting operation that was conducted in August 2011 in response to 10 vehicle break-ins in a two-week period that summer.

A “bait car” loaded with electronic equipment and camping gear was parked at the Crystal Lakes trailhead by Park Service authorities. The next day, a ranger on surveillance witnessed the Enumclaw duo drive into the trailhead’s parking lot at 6 a.m., look into cars parked there, and then break a window on the bait car and steal a cell phone, a GPS device, a satellite phone, a digital camera and camping equipment, according to authorities..

Park officials regularly warn the public about the possibility of car prowlers. Visitors should take precautions by not leaving valuables in their vehicles, particularly at trailheads and parking lots, officials advise.

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