Joyriders steal local skiff, return it the next day

Stambaugh: After hours of volunteer service, 'someone in the community kinda kicks you in the shins'

Posted: Monday, July 13, 2009

Joyriders stole Gary Stambaugh's skiff during the Independence Day fireworks show - then returned it to the same spot the next morning.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

"Don't leave your key on the boat," he said. "Many people with skiffs just kind of tuck the key away, and you think it would be fine there for just a few hours, but that's where people look."

Stambaugh has been one of the three main organizers for the fireworks show for more than a decade. Like other volunteers, Stambaugh uses his 18-foot Hewescraft skiff to take supplies and volunteers to and from the barge every year.

"I'm very grateful they were kind enough to bring the boat back and tie it up," Stambaugh said of the boat-nabbers. "They could have done a lot of other things, but I hope they had a great time."

Stambaugh said the last time he saw his boat was at about 9:30 p.m. July 3 at the N Float of Aurora Harbor. Fireworks crew were making their last run to the barge in fellow volunteer Ron Flint's boat.

"We got out there, put on a phenomenal show and then headed back about 1:15 on Ron's boat, and my boat wasn't there," Stambaugh said. "So we thought maybe one of our good friends decided to move it on us, but the boat was gone."


The discovery was "an instant downer from the high after coming off the show," Stambaugh said.

About seven volunteers from the barge stayed to help him search - despite having worked since 7:30 a.m. that Friday morning.

"The biggest actual casualty was missing our traditional post-shoot debriefing sitting on the tailgate of the pickup truck in the parking lot," Flint said, "where we talk about what happened in the show, what was great, share in the camaraderie of a job well done and bask in the afterglow, literally. But that really killed it. We didn't get that this year."

Stambaugh and his colleagues searched Douglas, Taku Smokeries, Thane, Aurora Harbor and Harris Harbor.

"We walked until 4 in the morning up and down the docks, trying to see if it had been tucked in some place, anything we could think of," Stambaugh said. "Ron rode out to his house in Auke Bay dropped his car off, hopped on his bike, peddled back down to the Auke Bay terminal in the middle of the night and road that whole dock to see if they could find it there."

"It was just a major bummer after putting in all those hours of community service, then someone in the community kind of kicks you in the shins," Flint said of the incident. "Fortunately, it played out along the lines we suspected and hoped."

After searching near the Juneau Yacht Club one more time, the crew called it a night at about 4 a.m., when Stambaugh called the Juneau Police Department.

"They were having a pretty busy night, and she said, 'Can I call you back?'" Stambaugh said.

JPD called Stambaugh back around 8 a.m. asking for the rest of his information.

"They were extremely professional about it," Stambaugh said. "They wanted to get the case rolling, and they had already alerted the harbor master and Coast Guard."


At about 10 a.m. July 4, Stambaugh got a call that his boat was at the N Float in Aurora Harbor - the same place it was tied up originally.

"I went down there before the parade to see what kind of surprises await, and the guys who 'borrowed' the boat did an excellent job tying it back up properly," Stambaugh said. "They were really kind to tuck the key back up to where it had been put away."

The tank was empty. The joyriders must have ran out of gas, because they had to hook up to the auxiliary tank, Stambaugh said.

"They used a gallon of that to get them back to the dock to tie it back up," Stambaugh said. "So they put about five hours on the engine that moonlit night, just zooming everywhere."

In their escapade, they must also have found a couple sandbars, some barnacles and a few rocks, because Stambaugh had to replace the prop and do some spray painting.

"They dinged the prop up pretty good, chipped up the front of the skeg, but that's all minor stuff," Stambaugh said. "I'm really grateful they brought the boat back in relatively good shape."


As if getting his boat stolen for a night wasn't enough, Stambaugh came back one day later and discovered someone had stolen two throwable life cushions and two life jackets from his skiff.

"It was just to say, 'Hey, we needed these, too, and we forgot to get them last time,'" Stambaugh joked. "I really hope they needed them, otherwise they wouldn't have taken them. You know, if it saves them from drowning someplace, so be it. I can go get another life jacket."

Stambaugh has a hunch the people who borrowed his boat also stole the life jackets.

"They knew there were a couple of lifejackets on, and who knows, the key obviously was not on the boat after I got down there on the Fourth," Stambaugh said. "Maybe they said, 'You know, we could use a couple lifejackets, and well, maybe we should see if we can go for a spin again.' This time they couldn't do that, so 'Darn it, we'll just take those lifejackets.'"

Despite his losses, Stambaugh thinks he'll come out on top.

"I'm the lucky guy," Stambaugh said. "Karma will always come back. They'll get their equal time. It's guaranteed to happen. But we're lucky - it could have been way worse."

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at or 523-2272.

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