Delinquency began at young age, close to home
Editor’s note: Details reported in the following story came from police and court records including the testimony of Luke Sandburg’s neighbors. Those neighbors declined to comment about the thefts for this story. Jan and Kirk Sandburg spoke to The Bulletin
By Tom Peterson
Published: August 11, 2002
Luke Sandburg began stealing from the neighbors in his upscale southwest Bend subdivision at age 14.
At first, he was caught stealing smaller items – baseball cards, a gas can. The victims did not call police. Instead, they talked with Luke’s parents, who protected him and worked out deals for Luke to pay them back.
Later, Luke stole motorcycles, expensive ski gear and more than $60,000 worth of jewelry, some of which he sold at a pawn shop after his parents drove him there.
When the details of his criminal activity became known, Luke’s neighbors changed their views. Now they believe they should have called police, and Deschutes County Circuit Court Judge Michael Adler told the now 19-year-old that his second chances are gone.
“… You’re not a kid anymore. Game time is over,” said Adler. “Dad is not going to come to court anymore and get you off the hook. He has been here over and over standing up for you … and probably taking care of your problems your whole life. I’m not putting your dad in jail, I’m putting you in jail, and that is exactly where you’re going on any probation violation, and if you have any doubt about it, I will see you later.”
But Luke may return to court on additional charges. A plea deal he made with the Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office to provide a truthful account of his crime could be in jeopardy. Bend police believe Luke Sandburg lied to them about his thefts, and prosecutors are considering whether to seek new charges against him.
Reached at his home Thursday, Luke Sandburg refused to comment for this story. But in July, his parents, Jan and Kirk Sandburg, said Luke, their second of two sons, suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and was a defiant and frustrated child whose anger oftentimes got the better of him.
“We tried to raise both kids equally and by the laws of our church and God. We wanted to make sure they could trust us and we could trust them,” Kirk Sandburg said.
“That is what made it so difficult to hear of the theft from neighbors’ property. We could not imagine a junior high kid could do something like that.”
Bend police detective Tom Brown said Luke was not stealing out of want for material goods. He grew up in a quarter-million-dollar home off Century Drive complete with a swimming pool and tennis court, according to Deschutes County property records.
“He stole the things a kid would steal,” said Brown, “motorcycles for fun, clothes to look good, jewelry to give to his girlfriends.”
Signs of Luke’s thieving appeared early, according to court records.
When UPS delivered a case of baseball cards to Dave Shore’s doorstep in 1997 the cards came up missing. They were later found two houses up the street in Luke’s room – every package opened.
“I looked Luke in the eye and made him make me a promise never to steal again,” Sholes said in a court hearing. “He looked me in the eye and made that promise. In retrospect, I probably should have called the police,” Sholes said. “…(Luke’s father) wanted to take care of it at home, and at the time I thought it was the right thing to do.”
When Luke Sandburg was caught stealing beer from next-door neighbors, Dita and Jonathon Keith, the couple worked with Luke’s father to rectify the situation instead of calling police.
Luke agreed to clean up the Keiths’ yard, Dita Keith said in court.
A week later, Luke’s father was doing the work, and “Luke stood around with his hands in his pockets,” she said.
Kirk Sandburg disputed that version, saying his son helped by filling his pickup several times with yard debris that day.
In interviews with police, Luke said he approached his parents in 1998 with five diamonds he removed from ring settings shortly after he stole $66,000 worth of jewelry from the Keiths, who lived across the street on Ridge Way Avenue.
“In our minds, we didn’t even suspect he had taken these things from somewhere,” Kirk Sandburg said.
The then 14-year-old told his parents he packaged some oregano to look like marijuana and traded it for the diamonds with a Eugene skier he met at Mount Bachelor, his father said.
“They could have been glass, rhinestones or costume jewelry,” said Jan Sandburg. “He was a young child, and we had high suspicion of the value. … “
But Luke and his parents took the diamonds to a pawn shop and received appraisals of $2,000 to $4,000, his mother said.
The parents never called police.
“We told him to return them to the rightful owner,” Jan Sandburg said.
But when Luke still had the diamonds a week or two later, the Sandburgs drove their son to a Redmond pawn shop and watched him sell them for $5,000.
Jan and Kirk Sandburg said they believed the pawn shop would tell them if the diamonds were actually stolen.
No one at the pawn shop said anything, so Jan Sandburg said she let her son keep the money from the diamonds. He bought a motorcycle with it.
“We did not keep any of it,” she said. “It was something that we did not want any part of. We had no idea what was going on with the Keiths’ jewelry, not until a month or so ago.”
Dita and Jonathon Keith never suspected that the boy they had befriended when he was in junior high had stolen Dita’s engagement ring and dozens of other items they planned on handing down to their children, according to court records.
When their jewelry was stolen, Bend police asked the Keiths if Luke could have committed the burglary and if they wanted him to take a polygraph test.
“No, we couldn’t possibly do that,” Dita Keith said, according to court records.
The Keiths and other neighbors learned about the thefts after police arrested Luke and a friend, Gregory Alexander Follett, 20, for smashing a window at Side Effect board shop on Galveston Avenue in January and stealing thousands of dollars of women’s snowboard clothes.
In the months that followed, Luke Sandburg struck a deal with the Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office.
Luke would admit to all his crimes and pay restitution to his victims.
In exchange, the district attorney’s office would not charge him with burglaries or thefts he completely admitted too.
Luke admitted to numerous crimes to police in handwritten lists.
In one list, for example, he said he stole a Suzuki RM 125 motorcycle, a Trek bicycle, beer, wallets, a hamburger, swim trunks, a jacket, pants and that he broke out a window at Mount Bachelor. He also told police he was responsible for burglaries at the Village Baker on 14th Street.
When it was all done, Luke Sandburg had admitted to stealing about $100,000 worth of property, according to his attorney Angela Lee.
On June 11, Luke Sandburg was sentenced to two months in jail for burglaries at Side Effect and Powder House Ski and Scuba. His parents did not attend, but their neighbors did.
“His father has covered for Luke,” Jonathon Keith told Judge Adler. “He has worked hard to protect his child and failed miserably. It’s a sad story. Luke is incorrigible. … I’m fearful his crimes against people and property are going to escalate.”
Adler listened to the testimony carefully.
“You’ve been in this court before,” the judge told Luke. “You act appropriately in the courtroom and have been able to convince the court to be lenient with you, and that is over. And now we got a view of you from members of the community and how you behave in the community.”
Adler said if Luke breaks his probation, he will immediately go to prison.
“This is not the place you want to see me,” Adler told the youth. “I will not hesitate to put you in jail for a maximum amount of time, which is two years.”
Two days after Luke went to jail, police served a search warrant at his home on Pine Hollow to look for jewelry and suspected stolen motorcycles.
Police found items, such as DVDs, a Sony PlayStation and other items, linking him to garage and residential burglaries, said Detective Brown.
Police also recovered two stolen Maico motorcycles that were parked in the rear of the Sandburg home.
The vintage bikes had a combined value of $9,500 and had been stolen from a Bend shop in October 2001.
Jan Sandburg said she remembered the day her son and his friend brought the motorcycles home.
“I confronted him immediately,” she said. “I told him, ‘If they are stolen, get them back to the rightful owner.’ “
She said the bikes did not run well, and she believed Luke when he told her a friend of a friend’s gave him and Follett the motorcycles.
Prior to the search, Brown said Luke Sandburg’s parents had gone through his room and piled up the stuff they thought police were looking for.
But Brown said some of the items Luke told police of were not in the pile, and they had to go into his room and then found those items as well.
Police quickly lost faith in Luke. Detective Brown said the teen told half-truths and lied during interviews.
Luke took police to a spot where he had buried a small portion of the jewelry behind his house on Pine Hollow, a cul-de-sac just off Ridge Way Avenue, according to a search warrant affidavit written by Brown. Luke said he had given the rest of the jewelry away to girlfriends in past years.
Detectives, however, said they seized three pieces of jewelry from one of his girlfriends. The girlfriend said Luke gave one of the Keith’s rings to her at the end of May 2002, according to Brown’s affidavit. The majority of the jewelry has not been recovered.
Since police say Luke didn’t comply with the agreement, the district attorney’s office is considering charging him with additional crimes.
When Luke’s attorney heard her client could face new charges, she advised him to quit talking with police. Luke Sandburg was released from jail July 24.
He is scheduled for a hearing on paying restitution to his victims on Aug. 22.
Jan and Kirk Sandburg said they tried everything they could to keep Luke in check during his teen years. But he was a difficult child to raise.
“When a child is compulsive and impulsive and has ADHD and is impulsive and angry, it is difficult not to give in some,” said Jan Sandburg. “He would get so angry and frustrated when he was little. He threatened to throw himself in front of a car. So yeah, you enable him. You don’t want to see him killed in front of your eyes.”
“Coddled? Not really,” said Kirk Sandburg. “He was disciplined. We treated both our sons the same,” he said, noting his first son is excelling in college. “If they did something wrong, we punished them for what they did.
“We were not absentee parents,” said Kirk Sandburg, noting he was involved in soccer with his son, until his son’s anger got in the way of him playing the sport.
In court records, Dita Keith said Luke was often left home alone while his parents went out playing golf. The Sandburgs denied the claim.
Kirk Sandburg said they grounded their son when he was caught stealing a gas can and baseball cards, and he worked around the house, mowing lawns and washing cars to pay back money he owed to neighbors for the stolen items.
In addition, Jan Sandburg said she kept an eye on Luke and was involved in his education, donating time at his school and always keeping in touch with his teachers, even during high school. She said she searched his room often, and he was subjected to drug testing. But looking back now she said she sees that the clothes and other items that he showed up with at home were likely stolen.
She said she thought Luke was just trading stuff with other teens.
“There was a lot of stuff we had no idea about,” Jan Sandburg said.
But now, she said, they are working to get him to change.
“Luke wanted to be honest about what he had done,” Jan Sandburg said. “We pressured him to do this. He chose to go that route to be honest. He is trying to change.”
Tom Peterson can be reached at 541-383-0304 or firstname.lastname@example.org