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Vashon girl approached by stranger; residents concerned about deputy's response

Some residents are concerned about how the King County Sheriff’s Department responded to a complaint that a man offered a 12-year-old girl a ride as she walked from the bus stop to her home last month.

A sheriff’s deputy came out to the house when the mother called to report the incident, the mother said. But he didn’t write a report or issue an alert to the school district. Instead, the mother took on that task, calling McMurray Middle School, where her daughter attends, and issuing a one-page notice to her neighbors in the community above Tramp Harbor.

David Hackett, a deputy prosecutor and the father of two school-age girls, heard about the incident after word of it reached The Harbor School, which one of his daughters attends. But when he looked up the incident report, he found only a few sentences — not a complete report and no indication that it involved a 12-year-old girl.

Sgt. John Urquhart, spokesman for the department, said the officer who responded to the call is a rookie and made a mistake. The report Hackett found is the one written indicating an officer was dispatched to the home, not the report an officer writes that then goes into the computer system for further investigation or to help officers see a pattern, should another incident occur.

“It’s standard police procedure to write a report,” Urquhart said.

The deputy told the mother that her daughter had not gotten the kind of information he needed for a report, such as the license plate. Urquhart said that was a mistake based on the deputy’s inexperience. “He does not need a license plate to write a report.”

The issue has shaken some residents in the community, many of whom have heard about it because of the mother’s neighborhood alert. Though the girl did not get the license plate, she did get a description of the car — a maroon Subaru Outback wagon — as well as a description of the man — a thin, wiry blond-haired man with John Lennon-like glasses, in his late 30s.

Another girl walking home a few days later saw both a vehicle and a man who matched the description, the mother of that girl said. Hackett said he found the incident disturbing.

“I think any time you have a stranger approach a child offering a ride it’s a serious incident that needs to be investigated thoroughly,” Hackett said.

But the mother of the girl who was offered a ride said the deputy did a great job discussing the incident with her daughter, who was upset that her mother had called the police.

“He told her, ‘Your mom’s not overreacting. This is very suspicious predetatory behavior; it’s not normal in this day and age for strangers to ask young children for rides,’” the mother recalled.

Meanwhile, the mother was able to change her daughter’s bus route, so that she now walks most of the half-mile from her bus stop to her home with other kids; at her other stop, she got off alone. She also said her daughter is handling the whole incident well.

“She knows not to accept rides with strangers,” the mother said. “It was a little scary. But she took it in stride.”

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