Shown on TV, put in custody

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AUBURN – A roomful of police officers, several ringing telephones, and the faces of fugitives appearing regularly on the television screen overhead.

Police were prepared to work extremely hard Monday night to round up a group of area fugitives.

And then one-by-one, the fugitives made it easy for them.

One man accidentally climbed into an unmarked police car, another turned himself in at the jail, and a third who was reached on his cell phone, agreed to give up.

“It went very well,” said Androscoggin County Sheriff Guy Desjardins.

An understatement, perhaps.

Auburn police Deputy Chief Jason Moen was simply watching a building on Howe Street in Lewiston when a suspect fell almost literally into his lap.

“He started to get into my car. Apparently, he thought it was his buddy’s car,” Moen said. “He was in for a rude surprise.”

The man was 42-year-old Phillip C. Witham, formerly of Drummond Street in Auburn. The surprise came in the form of several officers who handcuffed him and charged him with failing to register as a sex offender.

Starting about 5 p.m., police began reacting to phoned in tips after news station WGME began posting information about area fugitives along with a toll free number to a line manned by three police officers.

“We’ve never done this before,” said Sheriff Guy Desjardins. “It’s been very successful in Cumberland County, and we really want to get it going here.”

It got going fast. Just as teams made up of sheriff’s deputies and police from Lewiston and Auburn got together to begin the hunt, the first of the suspects appeared. Earl Witten, a 51-year-old Auburn man also wanted for failing to register as a sex offender, walked to the jail and gave himself up.

He gave up, police said, because WGME news had been flashing his photo on its news broadcasts all night and police had been knocking on doors in search of him. They had been searching in Wales, Greene and other locations after tips flooded the toll free line set up for the occasion.

Witten, wanted by police in Cumberland County and Auburn, was booked into the county jail. The team of officers gathered in Desjardins’ office turned their attention to another Auburn man accused of sex offenses.

In June 2006, 40-year-old Raymond Anthony Dulac was indicted on two counts of unlawful sexual contact for allegedly groping a girl under 16. A month later, police said he violated his bail by hanging around a Poland campground in the presence of children after being ordered to stay away from minors.

Police have been looking for him since summer. On Monday night, they turned up the heat, with police officers from all three departments reacting to tips and closing in.

Four of the officers went to the home of Dulac’s parents on Poland Road. There, his mother said she had not seen or heard from her son since before Christmas. Others went to Allen Pond Road in Greene but failed to find him.

At about 6:30 p.m., a caller to the fugitive line provided police with Dulac’s cell phone number. Lewiston police called the number and learned that Dulac was in Rangeley on a fishing trip with friends. After a brief conversation, police said Dulac agreed to drive to Auburn on Tuesday and give himself up.

Not bad for just a few hours work: Witten turned himself in about 6 p.m. Dulac was reached by telephone about 7 p.m. and Witham climbed into a car full of cops shortly before 8 p.m.

Each of the suspects was booked into the county jail where they were expected to remain at least overnight.

Three suspects have already been rounded up since WGME began its “Fugitive File” program. A fourth suspect being sought Monday night, 34-year-old Andrew Leroy Peters, wanted for failing to appear in court, remained at large Monday night.

Police in Lewiston and Auburn plan their own fugitive roundup efforts in coming months. Desjardins said his department will continue the initiative as well.

“It’s what I’ve always said: We need to be able to work with the municipal police departments and work closely with them,” Desjardins said near the end of the operation. “Right now, we have a lot of officers on the streets, but it’s not draining any one department’s resources.”

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