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Prairie villagers take to quads, plane and tractor to catch car-theft suspects

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BRIERCREST, Sask. - Mounties are praising a Saskatchewan village for springing to action with quads, a tractor and even a small plane to hunt down a trio of young car-theft suspects who became stranded in the community.

RCMP Sgt. Paul Dawson says it's alleged the three suspects, who are all under 18, left Regina in a stolen Subaru early Friday, abandoned it in the community of Roleau, and then stole a truck.

He says they made their way to nearby Briercrest, but a resident who spotted them suspected the truck was stolen and took action.

Dawson says when the suspects left the truck parked for a few moments, the resident swiftly opened the door and grabbed the keys.

The resident called police, and the village activated an emergency telephone call-out system to warn everyone to keep an eye out for the suspects.

Eight hours later, after being chased on foot through wet fields and bogs by officers, police dogs and residents, two 16-year-olds and one 17-year-old from Regina were arrested and will face various charges.

"To be honest, I think the suspects were kind of relieved that they were captured," Dawson said. "It wasn't just a case of the police looking for these people, it was the entire community."

Briercrest residents were already on the lookout for strangers after being the target of several car thefts in the past few months, local officials said.

Small Prairie communities are often popular targets for car thieves from large cities. Police explain that the thieves take a car from the city and drive it to a rural area where vehicle owners are more likely to leave their keys inside their vehicles. The thieves abandon the first stolen vehicle and speed off in the one with the keys in it, sometimes repeating the process several times before returning to the city in their most recent stolen ride.

Briercrest Mayor Ray Briggs said that on April 28, residents gathered for a meeting with police to discuss what could be done to deal with the problem.

He said one of the solutions was a telephone tree to immediately alert neighbours of suspicious activity.

Their preparation paid off only a few days later when the word went out that three strangers were at large in the village.

"Within about ten minutes there were 20 to 25 residents driving around," Briggs said. "It worked well."

Dawson said that when the resident pulled the keys from the truck, it essentially disabled the vehicle. And since the resident had seen the suspects, everyone had a description of who to search for.

Residents jumped in their pickups and fanned out on grid roads. Others canvassed the wet and boggy areas with quads, an all terrain vehicle.

One resident, a local pilot, took to the air to conduct a grid search.

More officers from neighbouring communities, including some with tracking dogs, were called in to help.

Hours into the search, a resident reported seeing three people walking through a wet and muddy field. It was so muddy, police said, that not even a four-wheel-drive could cross it.

A farmer offered his tractor, and RCMP rode in a bucket on the front and chased the suspects down.

Dawson said the residents were careful, calling police each time they spotted the suspects rather than chasing them themselves.

He said the fleeing suspects had nowhere to hide from the local searchers.

"It's kind of the perfect storm. They're well organized. They have all kinds of machinery and resources at their disposal and they know the area better than the police, and obviously better than these three people," Dawson said.

"Coupled with that, you have Prairie landscape, which is very flat. It's difficult to hide when you have those type of elements working against you."

The suspects were taken to police holding cells in Moose Jaw. Police said they would face charges including theft, possession of stolen property, and breach of probation.

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