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Grand Theft Auto… Not! Washington Senator Gets His Car Back

State Sen. John McCoy, used the Find My iPhone app to assist law enforcement in Washington to apprehend a suspect who allegedly stole his car.

When the suspect allegedly stole a car and cell phone from a home on Tulalip Bay early July 13, he likely had no idea that the car belonged to a tech-savvy Washington state senator. And that the cell phone’s locator was on.

With the senator’s help, Everett city police apprehended the suspect within a couple of hours of the theft.

State Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, and his wife, Jeannie, had an early breakfast that morning, then went downstairs to the den to watch “Sunday Morning” on TV.

The McCoys dosed off and were awakened by their dog’s bark. “Our grandson was on our upper deck. He had come to pick up our garbage and take it to the transfer station,” McCoy said. “When I came upstairs, he said, ‘I thought you weren’t home … the garage door is open and the car is gone.’”

McCoy’s car – it actually was a loaner; his car is in the shop – was indeed gone. His car keys, which had been inside on a counter near a door from the house to the garage, were gone. And so was his iPhone.

“Whoever stole the car came into the house,” McCoy said.

McCoy called Tulalip Police. “While they were dusting for prints and taking statements, I remembered that my cellphone had its locator on. I downloaded the app, Find My iPhone, and we tracked him all over Snohomish County.”

McCoy relayed information to police, “An Everett officer had called a Tulalip officer on his cell phone. We kept naming off streets. When [the suspect] got to 41st and Evergreen Way, the officer said, ‘I have him in my sights,’ and pulled him over.”

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The alleged theft occurred between 8 and 9 a.m. The suspect was apprehended at 11:45 a.m.

According to the police report, the suspect told police that he was watching the house for his grandparents and located the keys to the car on the counter. “He told me he then took the car from the garage,” the officer wrote. “At the time of his arrest, he told me he had taken the car approximately three hours earlier.”

A Tulalip officer arrived with McCoy at the scene of the arrest. According to the police report, McCoy said he did not know or recognize the suspect. “I told them, ‘I didn’t give him permission to come into my house, I didn’t give him permission to take my car, and I didn’t give him permission to take my iPhone.”

The McCoys bought the house a week and a half earlier. The senator believes the suspect is familiar with the house, because he allegedly entered the house using a spare key that was hidden in a drawer in the garage. The police report gives the suspect's last known address as the 12000 block of Marine Drive, 5.5 miles northwest of McCoy's home.

McCoy said the suspect is not a Tulalip Tribe member and is believed to now live off the reservation.

The suspect is not named in this story because as of this writing he hadn’t been charged. The Snohomish County Jail roster showed that the suspect was booked at 12:38 p.m. that day on suspicion of felony motor vehicle theft and was scheduled to appear in District Court.

Two immediate results of the incident: One, McCoy is getting his house locks changed. Two, he’ll introduce a bill that would allow law enforcement officers to ping cell phones in emergencies – essentially, to do what McCoy did. Currently, law enforcement officers must contact the cellphone carrier to get information about the location of a cellphone. And that can take valuable time.

McCoy points to the case of Kelsey Smith, the 18-year-old girl from Overland Park, Kansas, who was abducted in broad daylight in a store parking lot in 2007; her kidnapper raped and strangled her. Investigators found her body in a wooded area in Kansas City, Missouri. It took four days for her cellphone carrier to hand over information about the location of her cellphone, which she had on her when she was abducted. Officer found her body within an hour after receiving information from the carrier.

McCoy has unsuccessfully introduced a bill the last two sessions. “Now, I have a personal story to share when I introduce it again,” he said. “Allowing law enforcement to ping cell phones can solve crimes. It can also save lives.”