A man originally stopped in Libby for improper license plate display and who attempted to run from law enforcement was sentenced Oct. 15 in Montana 19th Judicial District Court to 10 years in state prison with another 5 years suspended for theft and forgery.
The two felony charges that Emmett Laban pleaded to were among five felonies and five misdemeanors with which he was originally charged.
The original felony charges included escape — for attempting to flee law enforcement after being detained — theft of the vehicle he was driving, criminal possession of dangerous drugs, theft of checks and forgery of checks.
Though he stole the vehicle in Whitefish, Laban victimized several local businesses by forging stolen checks, including Rosauers, Ace Hardware and Bears Cenex.
Laban also faced misdemeanor charges for obstructing a peace officer, improper registration, displaying a license plate belonging to another vehicle, driving while suspended and operating without insurance.
It all began July 22 when Montana State Trooper Eric Power began following a vehicle after noting a license plate displayed in the front passenger-side window and on the rear bumper, but not on the front bumper.
According to his affidavit, Power followed the black Subaru sedan into the parking lot of a business along Highway 2 on the west side of Libby. The business was closed for the day.
Pulling in behind the Subaru, Power saw Laban exit the driver’s door.
Power approached him and asked for his license, registration and proof of insurance. Laban responded that all the items were in his friend’s car.
When Power asked Laban why he had pulled into the parking lot, Laban told him he intended to go to the business. When Power told him he believed it wasn’t open, Laban responded that he wasn’t from the area.
Laban told Power his name was Edward Laebin, to which Power was unable to get a return from the law enforcement database of registered drivers.
However, while Power had Laban return to the driver’s seat, he was able to run the plates, and found they belonged to a 1997 Volkswagen Jetta. Power then sought backup from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office.
When Power further questioned Laban, he claimed not to have a Montana driver’s license, but rather one out of Idaho.
He said he “believed” the Subaru belonged to a “real good friend,” named “Bill,” and told Power he thought the friend’s last name was “Williams.”
Laban said that he was driving the Subaru while Bill Williams drove Laban’s truck.
Power said in his affidavit that he found the name and details suspect, and asked Laban to once again spell his own last name. The second time, he spelled his last name “Laebine.”
When asked again about the vehicle registration, Laban responded that “Billy” might have it with him in Laban’s truck.
Around that time, Power took down the Vehicle Identification Number from the Subaru, and Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy John Hyslop arrived.
While Hyslop approached the passenger’s side and Power returned to his vehicle to run the VIN, Power saw Laban stand up from the driver’s seat and start to run southeast across Highway 2.
The passenger, Alexis Brenz, later told law enforcement that Laban placed a hypodermic needle in the door handle and said, “it was nice knowing you,” before running, according to Power’s affidavit.
Power and Hyslop chased Laban across Highway 2, assisted in part by two passing drivers who saw the pursuit and attempted to block Laban in, slowing him.
Unable to catch up to Laban, Power deployed his taser with one barb making contact, and Laban fell to the ground and gave up.
Asked why he ran, Laban said he had a warrant out for him, and provided his correct name and date of birth.
Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Streifling arrived and placed Laban in his vehicle while officers continued to talk with Brenz and inspect the Subaru.
That was when Power saw the first syringe in the driver’s door. That combined with knowledge of drug history for Laban and other factors led Power to request a search warrant.
Both Brenz and Laban claimed not to know if there were any drugs in the vehicle.
The stolen checkbook was recovered by Streifling after Laban dropped it on the floor of the back seat of Streifling’s vehicle.
Power was able to determine the businesses checks had been written to — using a license stolen from an additional individual — from the checkbook itself. His affidavit does not state whether Laban had recorded the transactions in the register, or if the checkbook had carbon copy paper for each check.
Power found that the Subaru was brand new, and had the state dispatch begin the process of trying to find out where it came from, suspecting it was stolen from a dealer lot.
It was later determined to be one of two vehicles stolen from Rocky Mountain Transportation of Whitefish after recently being delivered to the business.
On searching the vehicle, law enforcement found four syringes, one with brown residue inside, and a spoon with brown residue. Power also tested crystal residue found in a plastic container, and the test indicated it was methamphetamine.
Power separated out almost $700 worth of goods obtained with the forged checks at local businesses, though as evidence the items were not immediately returned to the victimized businesses.