The Washington State Patrol arrested Kelsea Bernhardt Friday night, March 24 in Tacoma. Troopers say she was a passenger in a car when they attempted to make a traffic stop on I-5 and 56th. It quickly became a pursuit. According to the driver, she told him to run because she saw herself on “Washington's Most Wanted.” Other law enforcement agencies joined the chase and Bernhardt exited the moving vehicle and ran on foot. Troopers and Tacoma Police were able to catch up to her. She led them to the location of the driver who had also bolted on foot. Because she is nine months pregnant, she was taken to the hospital to be medically cleared and then booked into the Pierce County jail.
Bernhardt appeared in Pierce County Superior court and was charged with 14 counts of identity theft, theft and forgery. Bail was set at $260,000 because of her 13 prior felony convictions. The prosecutor’s office has classified her as a high priority offender.
“Our High Priority Offender Program uses data, technology and intel to identify and target the small percentage of offenders who are causing a large percentage of crimes,” said Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. “The goal is to reduce crime and make our community safer.”
Tacoma Police say Bernhardt’s victim put two checks in his outgoing mail to pay his bills on Dec. 16, 2016. The next day, Columbia Bank notified him that someone had cashed one of the checks for $750. Detectives say bank surveillance video shows Antonio Overby and Bernhardt enter the Spanaway branch. Each went to a different teller with the forged checks. Detectives say Overby successfully cashed a stolen check.
Police say Bernhardt tried to cash one that had been altered to read $1,000.
“The teller actually called the owner of the check and determined the check had been stolen. Before Kelsea could obtain any money, she realized that the teller was checking on her so she fled the bank leaving the check behind,” said Officer Loretta Cool with Tacoma Police. Overby was arrested on Jan. 17 and remains in the Pierce County jail charged with numerous I.D. theft and forgery cases.
Mail theft is a widespread problem for many communities in Washington. “It’s unfortunate that you can’t leave things in your mailbox but we do have a lot of thefts just from unsecured mailboxes,” said Officer Cool.
Police encourage everyone to sign up to pay bills online whenever possible to avoid having checks stolen. “We advise people not to put written checks out in their mail, especially if their mailbox isn’t locked. When you clip your mail to your mailbox and the mailbox is open and people walking by or driving by can see you have five or six letters clipped to the mailbox, they know people are paying their bills and then you’re increasing your opportunity of becoming a victim,” said Officer Cool.