Man Accused Of Stealing Ind. Police Car Caught

Published January 13, 2012 3:54PM (EST)

KNOX, Ind. (AP) — A man accused of stealing a police cruiser while handcuffed in northwest Indiana, then using the police radio to ask how to unlock the cuffs, has turned himself in after two days on the run, authorities said early Friday.

William Francis Blankenship, 22, was taken into custody late Thursday night at his family's home in Knox, a small town about 50 miles southeast of Chicago. Indiana State Police said cooperation from his family helped make the peaceful surrender possible.

Blankenship had been arrested Tuesday on drug charges at a gas station in nearby Kouts. Police said that as the arresting officer searched Blankenship's vehicle, the suspect somehow escaped from the police car's backseat, climbed into the front and drove off. He then used the police radio to ask where to find the car's cigarette lighter and a key to unlock his handcuffs.

Chief Deputy Prosecutor Matt Frost said Blankenship was being held without bond on a preliminary charge of auto theft and that no date was set for an initial hearing. He said more charges could be filed based on the police report, pending further investigation. He said there is no record that Blankenship has yet hired an attorney.

The officer whose squad car was stolen said he only realized the cruiser was gone when he looked up and saw the taillights leaving the parking lot.

"I probably had a really dumb look on my face for maybe half a second," Kouts police Sgt. Dave Johnston told The Associated Press earlier Thursday.

Johnston, an 11-year veteran, said he believes Blankenship managed to contort himself to get the handcuffs in front of him, then hopped into the front seat and put the car into reverse before pulling away. The squad car was found in a drainage ditch Wednesday, and authorities recovered the police weapons stored in the cruiser.

Johnston said he handcuffed Blankenship's hands behind his back and put him in the back of the running patrol car Tuesday night after spotting what he thought was drug paraphernalia in his car. The officer informed Blankenship he was under arrest, then went back to search the car more thoroughly. Johnston said he was searching for only another minute or two when he looked up.

Johnston said he was "a little embarrassed" because he knows a lot of people will assume he did something wrong, but he said he has been cleared of any wrongdoing by Kouts' police chief.


Associated Press writers Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind., and Erin Gartner in Chicago contributed to this report.

By Salon Staff

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