A tourist from Vermont is being investigated for stealing a pizza driver’s delivery vehicle and taking a drunken cruise to Jackson Hole Airport for an impromptu flight out of the valley.

Quinn McElwain, 21, was reported missing Wednesday night by friends who got into an argument while staying at the Elk Country Inn.

An hour later another call was made to the Jackson Police Department, this time to report a swiped Toyota RAV4 that was left running outside the same hotel.

Investigating officers quickly put two and two together, Lt. Cole Nethercott said.

“We figured that they would be related,” Nethercott said. “We received some information from his party that it’s possible he’d leave the area and would try to fly out.”

The friends’ hunches were right.

When police determined that McElwain bought a ticket to Chicago with cash, he was already in transit and had transferred flights in Denver for the final leg of the trip.

Security officers at Chicago O’Hare International were contacted to intercept the suspect, but he lucked out of being apprehended.

“For whatever reason,” Nethercott said, “they ended up at the wrong gate and they missed him.”

Pizza Hut did not grant an interview for this story.

Police gave the delivery driver a lift to be reunited with his SUV at 8 a.m. Thursday, Nethercott said.

The vehicle was left in the parking lot, and the driver’s personal possessions were all accounted for.

The crime McElwain is suspected of does not fit a felony grand theft auto charge because he did not intend to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle, Nethercott said.

Rather, the lieutenant said, the suspect would be eligible for “unauthorized use” of a vehicle, a misdemeanor, if police pursue charges.

“We’d be interested in charging him with it,” Nethercott said. “The question is always if the prosecutor’s office would pay for him to be extradited back here.”

Unauthorized use of a vehicle isn’t all that rare of a crime in Jackson. The lieutenant said it happens perhaps six to 12 times a year.

“Usually it’s a taxi outside a bar that someone gets in and drives off when the taxi driver goes inside the bar,” Nethercott said. “Generally these are late-night things that happen and involve intoxicated people trying to get somewhere.”

Somewhere, to Nethercott’s recollection, has never been to Jackson Hole Airport in an attempt to skip town.

“There’s a first time for everything,” he said.

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or environmental@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them for 7 years. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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