Following an investigation by US Park Rangers, a repeat offender who victimized more than 40 hikers and campers was recently sentenced to serve two years in federal prison to follow a 25-month state prison term. Michael Wayne Pickering, age 41, prowled at least four dozen cars at more than seven different trailheads and parking lots in Olympic and Mount Rainier national parks. Pickering must also serve three years of supervised release following prison.
Court documents describe how, on March 28, 2019, Pickering and his girlfriend smashed windows and stole thousands of dollars of equipment from vehicles parked at the Graves Creek Trailhead and Fletcher Canyon Trailhead in Olympic National Park. This was the beginning of a month-long theft spree. In crimes the judge described at the sentencing hearing as “planned and methodical,” Pickering and his girlfriend used credit and debit cards stolen from the vehicles to make purchases at various stores – the overall financial damage was more than $50,000. Pickering was stopped when he was caught shortly after walking out of a store where he used victims’ bank cards, with a window punch (a tool used to break car windows), and three credit cards in a victim’s name in his pocket.
In addition to credit and debit cards, Pickering stole expensive electronics, car and house keys, diaries, clean clothes, makeup, and toiletries. When law enforcement searched his residence, they found Pickering had been stockpiling much of the gear he stole or selling it online. He used the stolen debit and credit cards to buy himself luxuries such a flat screen TVs, gaming systems, a drone, and clothes.
“The victims in this case didn’t just suffer a financial loss, they were emotionally damaged as well,” said US Attorney Brian Moran, Western District of Washington. “Some returned from what was supposed to be a relaxing time in nature, to find themselves stranded with a damaged vehicle, their electronics, clothes and money stolen, marooned in the national park, with no cell phone service. For some, it has forever changed their interest in outdoor activities.”
In statements made to the court, victims of Pickering’s crimes described how the car prowls violated their sense of safety and changed their attitude toward camping. Some of the comments include:
It’s really hard to feel so unsafe in the outdoors, which is where I usually find peace and solace.
The crime happened on the last day of a hiking/camping/backpacking trip with friends. I took what otherwise was a great vacation and made it very sour.
We were exhausted and freezing by the time we returned to the trailhead. When we found the truck windows busted out and my luggage stolen it was devastating…We had to drive for nearly an hour with the cold wind and rain coming in through the windows…I have not returned to Washington since this event.
The investigation also revealed that Pickering has a 15-year history of property crimes in and around Olympic National Park, such as burglary, identity theft, and trespassing. The case was investigated by US Park Rangers at Olympic and Mount Rainier national parks, assisted by a Special Agent of the National Park Service Investigative Services Branch, and was conducted in collaboration with Forks Police Department, La Push Police Department, Hoquiam Police Department, Mason County Sheriff’s Office, Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Office, and the Washington State Patrol. The US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington prosecuted the case.
The National Park Service is dedicated to supporting victims of and witnesses to crime that occurs within our community. We work to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect, informed of their legal rights, and connected with support and services throughout the continuum of care and recovery. More information is at the US Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime website, ovc.gov/help.