Kouts squad car, weapons found, hunt continues for prisoner
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent January 11, 2012 9:57AM
William Blankenship III
Updated: February 13, 2012 9:14AM
KOUTS — Charges were filed Wednesday against the prisoner who stole a Kouts squad car after a traffic arrest Tuesday.
The man, William Francis Blankenship III, 22, of Knox, remains at large. The squad car was recovered Wednesday morning partially submerged in a retention pond along with the loaded police weapons that were in the vehicle when it was stolen.
Those weapons were drying out at the Kouts police station while the squad car and Blankenship’s blue Ford Taurus were at A&H Towing in Kouts. The squad car suffered front-end damage and water damage. Both vehicles were being treated as a crime scene and were being inventoried.
The Porter County Prosecutor’s Office filed Class D felony auto theft charges against Blankenship on Wednesday afternoon. Porter County Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford approved the charges, but they hadn’t made it through the system as of the end of the courthouse business day and no file had been created for public access. Blankenship faces six months to three years in prison if convicted of the auto theft felony.
Kouts Police Chief James Boyce said the situation is a tough one for the department.
“It’s a blow to your ego,” Boyce said. The veteran officer joined the Kouts department in 1998. He has served as police chief for four years. He described the theft as the worst incident he can recall since joining the department.
“You see it from time to time in the news,” Boyce said, adding one never expects the theft of a squad car will happen to one’s department.
He said the officer involved followed protocol after responding to a call about a reckless driver. Blankenship was clocked doing 53 mph in a 35 mph zone. Blankenship pulled his car into the Family Express parking lot at the corner of Indiana 49 and Indiana 8 when the officer initiated the traffic stop.
When the officer approached the vehicle he noticed drug paraphernalia and items associated with drugs in the car. The officer took custody of Blankenship, handcuffing him behind his back and placing him in the back seat of his squad car.
The officer then went to inventory Blankenship’s vehicle. When he looked up, Boyce said, the officer saw the squad pulling away.
A significant amount of narcotics, including heroin and methamphetamines, were found in Blankenship’s vehicle along with plastic bags, scales and miscellaneous paraphernalia. The Prosecutor’s Officer will determine what other charges will be filed.
Blankenship sped west on Indiana 8. Boyce said police spoke with Blankenship on the squad’s radio in an attempt to negotiate a surrender but weren’t successful. He said Blankenship said he had a family and did not want to go to jail. He also told police he did not want to hurt anyone, but did not know what he would do if approached.
Police had tracked the stolen squad using the GPS devices in the officer’s computer and cell phone until contact was suddenly cut off. When police found the squad at about 6:30 a.m. Wednesday it was partially submerged in about 10 feet of water in a detention pond in the area of 600 W. County Road 2200S in southern LaPorte County.
Boyce said it appears Blankenship approached a 90-degree turn in the road at a high rate of speed and wasn’t able to navigate the turn due to the handcuffs.
“You can see the skid marks. You can also see his footprints in the mud where he crawled out,” he said.
The chief said it was fortunate no one was injured or killed during the incident. Boyce said it is common practice for police to leave their squad cars running due to the power needed to run the computers, radio and lights. Blankenship was calm and cooperative at the time of his arrest, Boyce said.
Officers generally are on their own when they make an arrest in the small 1-square-mile town.
“We have one officer on duty at a time,” Boyce said.
The town has five police vehicles. When backup is needed, Porter County Sheriff’s Department assists, but it may take a while for the sheriff’s officer to get to the town.
Boyce said officers will work hard to apprehend Blankenship in a timely manner to put the incident behind them.
“I’m ashamed it happened to us. I feel bad for the town,” Boyce said.
Blankenship was last seen on foot in the Knox area.
It is possible Blankenship obtained a key to remove the handcuffs. There are also ways to cut the cuffs off, said Porter County Sheriff’s Department Capt. George Gonzalez. He said it also is possible Blankenship received a ride from someone after he ditched the squad car but he could have traveled on foot.
Blankenship is 5 feet 10 inches tall, 175 pounds with black hair and brown eyes. He has a scruffy goatee with some other facial hair, police said. He was last seen wearing blue jeans and a white and gray hooded sweatshirt.