I knew something was up yesterday - that was Monday, May 14, around noon. I was arranging pots of frost-damaged tomato plants in my back yard when I heard the chop-chop-chop of a helicopter and looked up to see it directly overhead. I waved. It kept circling the neighborhood, flying low.
That's funny, I thought, As far as I know, no one around here is growing marijuana, and even if we were, the season for helicopter surveillance is months away. Maybe it's the state police looking for lost hikers.
I drove to the Keene Transfer Station. All along state Route 73 I kept passing Department of Environmental Conservation vehicles--rangers--and state police cars. They zipped from spot to spot and sometimes congregated, the officers possibly sharing information. They looked serious. Yes, clearly, something was up.
About 1:30 I went over to the Valley Grocery in Keene Valley. Peggy LaRose was at the cash register. What's going on? I asked. Are there lost hikers?
As it happened, Peggy told me, former DEC Lieutenant Fred La Row had just dropped off three teenage runaways from Lake Placid's Mountain Lake Academy, formerly Camelot, outside in the parking lot. La Row came in to call police and the boys were nabbed by state police a short distance away. I went home and called Lt. La Row.
He was quick to point out that he did not apprehend or arrest the young men in question, as he is no longer an officer of the law. He picked them up as hitchhikers. The arrest was made by State Police Officer Chad Martin.
How it happened: La Row was driving past the Marcy Air Field in Keene Valley when a young man, about 17, La Row figured, jumped out from behind a shrub and told him, "We really need a ride."
Two younger fellows - La Row surmised they were about 13 - then came out from behind the bush.
The kids had muddy pants and boots and seemed tired, La Row said. They didn't look like hikers. He deemed the situation suspicious.
"You boys heard about any break-ins?" La Row asked, which is uncanny, since he himself hadn't heard of any at that point.
Oh, no, the hitchhikers said, they hadn't.
"Where are you headed?"
"You boys aren't local, are you?"
"No, we're from downstate."
At this juncture the kids were already inside the vehicle, but I wonder if they were beginning to wish they weren't. Little did they know when they flagged him down that they were dealing with the legendary Lt. La Row, who has earned a reputation for finely honed lawman instincts.
Lt. La Row could drive into town and immediately detect the smell of a trash fire on the breeze, for example, and tell you its components, legal or otherwise, as well as its location. There are doubtless other, better, examples, but that one comes immediately to mind. If you are on the lam, La Row is one person you do not want to ask for a ride.
Keene Town Supervisor Bill Ferebee told me some more of the story Tuesday morning.
The boys had broken out of the academy on Sunday and allegedly stolen bicycles, on which they made their way to Keene.
Monday morning a young man asked Meredith, a town employee, for a cigarette, according to Ferebee. She asked him if he was 18, and he said yes. She then heard the sound of glass breaking in the Keene Library, where the food pantry is set up.
Scared, Meredith called police. When they arrived on the scene the boys were gone. They had broken a pane of glass and taken two cans of cake frosting, Ferebee said.
"They were hungry. Meredith said if they'd told her they were hungry, she would have opened the food pantry up for them herself."
Later, Ferebee was driving past the airport when a teen rushed into the road waving his arms and asked for a ride to the Interstate. Ferebee quizzed him about the break-in at the library, and warned that police would soon be showing up to give him and his friends a ride. Ferebee called police, but La Row must have arrived first, the boys probably mistaking him for a godsend.
Ferebee said Ned Whitney later asked him how the situation had turned out.
"If this is the biggest thing that happens this summer," Ferebee answered, laughing, "then we'll be all right."
Have a good week.