Boy’s freedom doesn’t last long

Young escapee nabbed after three hours

James Coby Smith, 12

A 12-year-old Hungry Horse boy was back in custody three hours after escaping from the Flathead County Juvenile Detention Center at about 7 p.m. Wednesday.

James Coby Smith, at just 5 feet tall and 90 pounds, was able to climb the handrail and jump to the ceiling struts in the outdoor recreation area.

Then he climbed hand-over-hand along two walls to the northeast corner. There he managed to pry open a small area of metal in the roof and crawl out, according to Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry.

Curry said Smith’s escape took only a minute or two.

After his escape, Smith allegedly stole a nearby girl’s pink Trek bicycle with a white basket and used it to flee the area.

All on-duty deputies participated in Wednesday’s search, along with Curry, Undersheriff Dave Leib and nearly the entire detective division.

“We talked to some kids at the skate park who said, ‘Oh yeah, he was just here,’” Curry said. “Shortly after, we found him at a relative’s home.”

The youth was taken into custody without incident at an Evergreen home. The bicycle was recovered outside the home.

Smith initially was incarcerated after being charged with 15 crimes. He is facing two felony counts of burglary, two felony counts of theft, eight misdemeanor counts of theft and three misdemeanor counts of criminal mischief.

The charges were filed in June. Smith’s next hearings in both cases are set for Oct. 31.  

Smith is accused of a crime spree involving seven incidents between April 27 and June 6 in Martin City, Columbia Falls and Hungry Horse.

According to court documents, Smith is alleged to have stolen or been involved in the theft of a 1998 Mazda Protege; a van; an all-terrain vehicle; a dirt bike; a “pocket rocket” motorcycle; several firearms including shotguns, rifles and pistols; Lortab tablets, Ambien pills, a Nintendo Wii, a Nintendo DSI, a laptop, a Nook, a DVD player; jewelry; a snowboard; a carton of cigarettes and two bicycles.

Some of the thefts involved burglaries in which the participants broke into two homes. One of the homes was thoroughly ransacked and damaged.

Two other juveniles are accused along with Smith in the thefts.

Mathew Hauck, 15, is charged with felony burglary, three counts of felony theft and felony criminal mischief for his alleged participation in the burglary during which the Mazda was stolen.

Hauck also is facing five misdemeanor counts of theft, two misdemeanor counts of criminal mischief, misdemeanor accountability to assault, misdemeanor criminal trespass to property and misdemeanor criminal possession of dangerous drugs in other cases.

According to a court document, Skyla Komeotis, 16, also is connected with the incidents.

In addition, Smith was reportedly supposed to be on house arrest at the time of the motorcycle theft, but had been waiting on an ankle bracelet.

“He certainly poses a significant threat to people’s property,” Curry said.

Curry said Smith is the first youth to escape from the Juvenile Detention Center since the Sheriff’s Office took over the facility in 1999, although he was unaware whether there were any prior escapes.

Chief Juvenile Detention Officer Laurie Rebuck said in that time one girl was able to escape from custody while being walked from the Flathead County Justice Center to the Juvenile Detention Center. She was apprehended several days later. Other juvenile inmates have assaulted officers in attempts to escape but have never been successful.

New charges are now pending for the escape.

County maintenance staffers were on the roof Thursday repairing the torn metal corner used in Wednesday’s escape.

Curry and Rebuck said maintenance staffers are looking to make several changes in the recreation area — which recently was remodeled — to enhance security.

 Changes being considered include replacing the metal Smith was able to bend back with corrugated steel and covering it with plywood, as well as finding some way to cover the struts in the ceiling.

The Juvenile Detention Center, which has the capacity to hold 12 young inmates, is just south of the Flathead County Courthouse in Kalispell.

Reporter Jesse Davis may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at

Maintenance workers repair the roof of the Flathead County Juvenile Detention Center Thursday morning in Kalispell. According to the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, James Coby Smith, 12, pried open a small area of metal in the roof of the outdoor recreation area and crawled out Wednesday evening. Smith is back in custody.


Detail of an opening in a small area of metal in the roof of the outdoor recreation at the Flathead County Juvenile Detention Center on Thursday morning, August 30, in Kalispell. The opening was made by James Coby Smith, 12, when he escaped on Wednesday evening. Smith is back in custody.

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