By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
When her mom found her, Slemons says, "she did the one thing she shouldn't have done--she called the cops." After hanging up the phone, Slemons looked outside to see a police car pulling into the trailer park. Although she would later find out that the police cruiser was just on a routine patrol, at the time it seemed like the dragnet was closing in on her. Expecting to get arrested at any moment, she and Michael McCarty frantically packed up their things and took off for a motel in Glenwood Springs, where they spent a sleepless night peeking out the window and discussing their options.
Glenwood Springs was a relatively safe hideout for the couple. Located right off I-70, the tourist trap on the way to Aspen is crammed with other anonymous travelers. But the two decided to get as far away from the scene of the crime as possible. They picked Alaska, via Canada, as their destination.
But first they needed reliable transportation. Under the cover of darkness the next night, the two young fugitives went to Bighorn Motors to scope out Toyota 4Runners. The next day, McCarty showed up at the dealership with a cashier's check, forged by Slemons, in the amount of $33,899.36--the price of the 4Runner plus $2,900 worth of add-ons such as a brush guard and a CD player. But the two were so anxious, they decided against waiting around to get the extras installed.
"I'm most ashamed of buying that car," Slemons says, holding her head in her hands. "It was probably the easiest sale that dealership ever saw. But that was Michael's dream car, and he wanted it. I agreed because it would be a safe car for my baby."
By now it was two days after New Year's. On the way out of Glenwood Springs, the pair cashed several more $6,000 checks, stuffing the $100 bills into a bank bag in the glove compartment, and they bought a laptop computer for $3,867. McCarty also paused long enough to mail two letters. One was a $1,500 payment to his credit-card company; the other was addressed to Slemons's ex-fiance in California and included a check for $6,000 to cover the credit-card bill he'd accused Slemons of running up on him before she'd split for Colorado. Hoping to permanently ditch her ex, McCarty wrote that Slemons had died in a car accident and the money had come from insurance. The couple then joined the I-70 holiday traffic into Denver, turned north on 1-25 and headed through Wyoming and toward the Canadian border at Sweetgrass, Montana. They hoped to wind their way from there up to Alaska. Slemons says she chose to go north because she likes the cold.
"I was so scared," says Slemons. She meticulously folds a tissue into a tight square. "I'd see a cop and think, 'Oh, my God, it's over.' I was so paranoid, but once you start something like this, you can't go back, especially when you're eight months pregnant. My only thought that kept me going was that no one was going to take my child. It was the scariest thing I've ever done in my life. Scarier than running from California."
It got worse when they reached Sweetgrass. Growing up in California, Slemons had been accustomed to the lackadaisical border checkpoint in Tijuana, where cars streamed in and out of the country after cursory inspections. But out on the desolate high plains of Montana, there are no anonymous travelers.
"I got the sense that it wasn't right the moment it came into view," Slemons says. "There were two big buildings and cop cars all over the place. I said we should turn around, but Mike wanted to go and ask what was required to get past. And since it was one lane, there wasn't any way to turn around. We pulled off to the side of the Canadian building, and the Mountie told us to come on inside. I thought we held ourselves together pretty well, but when we came out of the Canadian building, a U.S. Customs officer asked us to come with him and answer some questions."
The border patrol left Slemons sitting in the lobby while they questioned McCarty in a back room. Slemons says she never even thought about running. "You run before you're caught, not after. After you're caught, you just be the best you can be and cooperate."
The border patrol didn't have much trouble getting McCarty to spill his guts, says Slemons. His parents had filed a missing-persons report on him, which stated that he was probably in the company of a felon. The border patrol had stopped them because of the new car, and McCarty told the agents about the rest, including the $47,000 stuffed in the glove compartment. Both Slemons and McCarty were charged with currency violations and taken to Great Falls, Montana, where they spent ten and a half months serving their federal sentences.
McCarty is now doing a three-year state sentence at Canon City for his part in the check-cashing spree.
Slemons pleaded guilty to the theft and forgery charges and delivered her baby in custody. She was allowed to spend thirty hours with her daughter before the child was taken away and placed with foster parents in Black Eagle, Montana. (The only time Slemons sheds tears is when she talks about her daughter, who just celebrated her first birthday.) On Monday, Slemons pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft and two counts of felony forgery. She was fined $25,000 and sentenced to eight years in the Department of Corrections (but was credited for 430 days served). She will be eligible for parole in two and a half years.