Fake maydays traced to boy

A 15-year-old from Largo is accused of stealing marine communications equipment.

By RITA FARLOW, Times Staff Writer
Published August 28, 2007

LARGO - The stepmother of a 15-year-old boy accused of sending U.S. Coast Guard helicopters on phony rescue missions said the boy is troubled but not malicious.

"In his eyes, he was just playing," said Colleen Tandy, 49.

The teen, Maurice Hutchinson, a freshman at Clearwater High School, has been charged by Largo police with two counts of burglary, accused of stealing marine communications equipment from a storage unit. Authorities say he used the equipment to make at least four fake mayday calls, which prompted the Coast Guard to send helicopters to the Sunshine Skyway and elsewhere.

The Coast Guard did not return a call Monday to determine if an investigation is ongoing.

Tandy called Largo police on Friday after she received a phone call from her stepson's aunt. The aunt said she had been contacted by the Coast Guard, who said they were getting marine distress calls from her son, Joseph Hutchinson, who is serving in Iraq.

Police said Maurice Hutchinson gave his cousin's name when asked to identify himself during a mayday call Thursday.

The aunt told Tandy to check on her stepson, because she knew he used CB radios.

Tandy checked the boy's bedroom and found a marine radio and other communications equipment that she knew didn't belong to him. She called her husband, James Tandy, 35, who used to be in the trucking business and described the equipment to him. He identified it as marine equipment and advised her to call the police.

"My husband, being a trucker, knew the severity of playing on a CB and we knew we hadn't bought it," Tandy said.

Tandy said the boy was arrested earlier this summer on charges of burglarizing another storage unit. The family got him into counseling after that charge, for which he has a September court date.

"I hate to get him in trouble, but he obviously needs help," Tandy said Monday.

The teen is at the Pinellas Juvenile Detention Center, Tandy said.

She said he is in learning disability classes at Clearwater High because of developmental delays.

Tandy said her stepson does not have a history of violent behavior, and doesn't drink or do drugs.

He has a talent for working with electronics and was able to attach an antenna and rewire a radio to connect it to a battery, Tandy said.

"Hopefully," she said, "we'll just be able to get him some help."