OROFINO, Idaho – A homing device hidden in a coffee can helped authorities arrest a man they’ve sought since June in a string of burglaries and vandalism in the north central Idaho backcountry.
Two dog teams and 17 law enforcement officers staged a pre-dawn raid on a wood-pole hut in the forest about one and a half miles northwest of Weippe on Tuesday. They arrested David Pruss, 34, on a warrant for alleged malicious destruction of property and burglary.
Pruss is in custody at the county jail in Orofino awaiting his initial court appearance, at which he will be formally charged.
Police believe Pruss may be responsible for more than $100,000 in damage to power transformers, telephone switches, a small hydroelectric plant and logging equipment including bulldozers, tractors and skidders. He was also sought in a series of break-ins at area cabins and businesses, where various items were stolen.
A $5,000 reward for information leading to Pruss’s arrest was offered by the FBI earlier this month, after public pleas for help in locating him.
According to a news release from the Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office, Pruss “is believed to have told others his intent was to damage public infrastructure in order to lure Clearwater County Sheriff’s Deputies into the woods for the purpose of picking them off.”
Sheriff Alan Hengen said authorities discovered Pruss’ location after they placed an electronic signaling device in the bottom of a plastic can of coffee, and put the can in a building that had been burglarized several times.
“We knew he liked coffee,” Hengen told the Lewiston Tribune. “He took the bait.”
The can was taken from the building a week after it was planted there, and deputies homed in on the transmitter signal to triangulate its approximate position: a 6-foot-square hut made of poles tied together and covered with pine boughs, concealing a tent underneath.
“We got him while he was sleeping,” Hengen said.
Deputies used pepper spray when Pruss refused to come out of the hut. According to the news release, Pruss was “believed to have been reaching” for a Mac-90 assault rifle that was found underneath him.
Hengen said a .357-caliber magnum revolver also was found in the hut, along with military-style clothing. The gear was similar to that worn by a suspect in a surveillance camera photo taken more than a month ago at a site where logging equipment was shot up.
The sheriff said anyone finding more hut-like structures in the woods around Weippe should contact his office – and stay away from the structures, as well as any equipment, clothing or other items that might be found nearby.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.