Theft suspect caught in mountain cave after Oregon crime-spree

TURNER, Ore. - A man who led authorities on a 25-mile chase through Marion County that ended with his capture in cave near the top of a 5,000-foot mountain had just been released from prison before his crime-spree on Friday afternoon, Marion County sheriff's deputies said.

Robert Atkinson, 23, stole a truck and other property from the Cascade School District maintenance yard in Turner, and later another truck parked at a gas station in Stayton, Ore. before the chase began, Marion County Sheriff's Office spokesman Don Thomson said.

Investigators said Atkinson broke into the school district's maintenance yard and searched many of the district's vehicles for valuable items. He stole computers, parts and cables from one vehicle and loaded it all into a maintenance truck, which he then hot-wired and stole, Thomson said.

Atkinson apparently sold some of the district's property before his next stop at a Bi-Mart in Stayton, where investigators said he stole bags of dog food, potting soil and planter boxes that were displayed outside the store. Investigators said he then parked the stolen truck near a Chevron gas station and loaded some of the stolen items into a Ford F150 parked about 1,000 feet away and drove off.

Click on the maps to follow the alleged thefts and chase.

View Marion County chase in a larger map

The truck's owner reported his stolen vehicle to police. A Marion County sheriff's deputy spotted Atkinson driving the stolen truck on Old Mehama Road near Highway 22.

Deputies said Atkinson drove at speeds too dangerous for them to follow, so they alerted other deputies and authorities to watch out for Atkinson. Another deputy spotted him in Mill City and began a chase that took him through Lyons, Mill City and Gates before Atkinson turned south toward Monument Peak, two miles west of Detroit Lake.

Deputies said Atkinson was driving at 60-70 mph in the small cities.

State police troopers, Stayton police, Linn County sheriff's deputies and Forest Service officers joined the chase. Atkinson led them on several gravel fire roads and jumped from the moving truck near the top of the mountain, where he ran into the woods.

A deputy and a K-9 tracked Atkinson for about 1/2 mile. Deputies said the K-9 named Rolo found Atkinson hiding face-down in a small cave near a creek. When he refused to surrender, Rolo bit Atkinson and a deputy took him into custody.

In an interview at the Marion County Jail, Atkinson told deputies that bought the computer parts from a man he didn't know. He admitted that he had just been released from prison after serving a 16-month sentence for a burglary in Jefferson, Ore.

Atkinson faces the following charges:

  • Unlawful use of a vehicle (2 counts)
  • Unlawful entry into a vehicle
  • Theft
  • Felony elude
  • Possession of stolen property
  • An outstanding parole violation

Deputies said both stolen trucks were returned to their owners.