HUDSON – After more than a week of searching, police took into custody a 16-year-old boy from Glenburn suspected of several burglaries and the theft of more than a half dozen motor vehicles Wednesday afternoon on a stretch of railroad tracks where a police dog had tracked him.
Amid dozens of reported sightings, the massive search extended into several counties. Concerns that the teenager may have had a gun prompted schools to close and cancel extracurricular activities.
With the arrest of Andru Smart came relief.
“I think it’s great for the community,” Lt. Wesley Hussey of the Maine State Police said Wednesday afternoon. “They can rest easy.”
The search for Smart had intensified in recent days, as the teenager persisted in eluding police.
“Every day it kept escalating,” Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross said Wednesday afternoon, pointing out the many agencies that worked together on the case.
It hadn’t been easy. Smart had sped away from police on a motorcycle and hidden. Later police tracked him into the woods, coming within a half mile of him, a family member said, but he managed to escape. He allegedly took a handgun during a break-in at his grandparents’ home in Hermon, but investigators have yet to recover the gun.
Authorities finally got a break Wednesday. Smart allegedly broke into the Hudson Road home of Leland Braley, 49, changed his clothes and turned on the television. When Braley encountered Smart, he was struck on the shoulder with the blunt end of an ax. The teenager demanded money of him, but Braley fended him off and Smart fled.
Braley’s call to police from his brother’s house up the street gave police the viable recent sighting they had been looking for.
Police who had been looking into an unconfirmed sighting of Smart in Monroe resumed their search of the Hudson and Glenburn areas where they had spent much of the previous day. Law enforcement officers and searchers from a half dozen agencies had spent about 14 hours combing the woods and watching roads and railroad tracks on the ground and from a helicopter and plane, halting the search about 2 a.m. Wednesday to regroup later in the morning.
Wednesday afternoon state police brought an airplane to the Hudson area. State troopers, Penobscot County Sheriff’s deputies and Maine game wardens, including many who had worked the day before, focused on the woods along the Hudson Road, Route 221, near the railroad tracks by the Glenburn and Hudson town lines.
Trooper Seth Edwards and his dog Boris tracked Smart to the railroad tracks where he was captured and then taken to the Hudson Road and a waiting ambulance.
Hussey said the teenager had a few cuts and scrapes on his legs, but was otherwise OK. Smart has asthma, Hussey said, and was given oxygen.
“He was pretty much out of breath,” Hussey said. Police expected to interview Smart later Wednesday at the Penobscot County Jail where he was to be taken after he was examined at a local hospital.
Smart, convicted earlier this year of operating a motor vehicle without a license, was wanted and initially charged on a warrant for burglary and theft. Hussey said the teenager was suspected of stealing nine automobiles.
The spree began Sept. 19 with the theft of a Jeep Wrangler from the United Technologies Center in Bangor where Smart, an Orono High School student, attended trade classes.
Other charges could be filed, particularly in light of the assault with the ax.
Late Wednesday afternoon, state police and Penobscot County detectives were busy gathering evidence from Braley’s residence where the assault took place.
Standing across the street from the crime scene at his modest home, Braley said he was coming home about 3 p.m. with some groceries and immediately noticed something amiss. The door of a pickup truck in his yard was slightly ajar. Through a window in his home’s door, he noticed the television was on.
As Braley was putting the groceries down on his wood stove, he noticed clothing on the floor in the bathroom and went to examine it. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see a man in the living room, raising an ax in his hands.
Braley said he began to back away, drawing the man out and asking him to put the ax down. He managed to get the man out into his shed where Smart, ill at ease, still held the ax in one hand.
“He was shaking and really nervous,” Braley said. “So was I.”
Braley then turned around to get back through the door and inside the house, but tripped on the kickplate. Just at that moment, the intruder swung the blunt end of the ax down upon Braley, hitting him on the shoulder just below the neck.
“If I hadn’t stumbled, he would have hit me in the head,” Braley said, showing the red bruise near his neck.
Recovering from the one-two punch of the trip and ax blow, Braley kicked the door closed with his feet, spun around and held it closed with his foot and hands. He asked the teenager why he had struck him, and Smart, who had dropped the ax, told him he needed money.
The intruder was wearing some of Braley’s clothes, having replaced the wet black shirt and black jeans police had seen him in the night before.
“You’ve come to the wrong place,” Braley said he told the teenager. “I don’t have none.”
Braley then told the teenager to leave or he would call the police. The Hudson man doesn’t have a phone, so he waited for the teenager to leave and then drove about a third of a mile to his brother’s house to call police.
While Smart was still on the loose Wednesday morning, investigators spoke with local school superintendents and convened a multi-jurisdictional meeting to share information and make plans.
School was called off in Glenburn and Orono on Wednesday.
Smart is a tuitioned student at Orono High School, according to Superintendent Kelly Clenchy.
“We had increased our level of security last Friday with greater police visibility, but it just seemed to us that we kept getting mixed information, and we weren’t able to verify fact from fiction,” Clenchy said Wednesday morning. “As a result, we decided to go the cautious route.”
Clenchy said Smart hadn’t made any threats and that the decision to close the school, made around 4:30 p.m., was “more or less a precaution.”
Some parents didn’t realize school had been called off and took their children to school.
Clenchy said he was “surprised there was any confusion.” He said the school system notified people through the department’s web site, announcements on the radio and television, and a phone calling tree.
“There were lots of contacts made, and I had my administrators at schools early in case someone didn’t see first hand the many venues we used to transmit those messages,” he said.
BDN REPORTER RUTH-ELLEN COHEN CONTRIBUTED TO THIS STORY