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Man on the lam after stealing, crashing squad while handcuffed

A Kouts police squad car sustained heavy front end damage after it was stolen eventually abandonded retentipond by fleeing suspect

A Kouts police squad car sustained heavy front end damage after it was stolen and eventually abandonded in a retention pond by a fleeing suspect Tuesday night. The car was recovered early Wednesday Jan 11, 2012. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 13, 2012 9:13AM

A handcuffed drug suspect who stole a police cruiser containing loaded guns — and then radioed in to ask where the key to the handcuffs was — remained on the loose Wednesday afternoon after he wrecked and abandoned the marked squad car, authorities said.

William Francis Blankenship of Knox, Ind., stole the car Tuesday evening in the Porter County, Ind., town of Kouts and used the police radio to ask where to find the car’s cigarette lighter and the keys to unlock himself, police said.

“There was a conversation between him and one of our officers,” Porter County Sheriff’s Sgt. Larry LaFlower said.

The police didn’t tell Blankenship, 22, how to remove the handcuffs, LaFlower said.

Kouts Police Chief James Boyce said Blankenship told the officer 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 were able to track the stolen squad using the GPS devices in the officer’s computer and cell phone until contact was suddenly cut off, Boyce said.

Officers found the police cruiser Wednesday morning, “wrecked and submerged in water,” in a drainage ditch in nearby LaPorte County, LaFlower said.

But Blankenship was gone and remains on the loose, he said.

“The weapons were all in the vehicle,” Porter County Sheriff’s Dept. Capt. George Gonzalez said.

Boyce said the situation is a tough one for the department.

“It’s a blow to your ego,” Boyce said. He described the theft as the worst incident he can recall since joining the department in 1998.

“You see it from time to time in the news,” Boyce said, adding you never expect the theft of a squad car is something that will happen to your department.

The sole police officer on duty Tuesday evening in Kouts — a small town about 50 miles southeast of Chicago — followed protocol after responding to a call about a reckless driver, Boyce said. Blankenship was clocked doing 53 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone. Blankenship pulled his car into a 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 arrested 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, the officer saw the police car pulling away, Boyce said.

A significant amount of drugs, including heroin and methamphetamines, were found in Blankenship’s vehicle along with baggies, scales and miscellaneous paraphernalia.

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. And Blankenship was calm and cooperative at the time of his arrest.

Officers generally are on their own when they make an arrest in the small one-square-mile town.

“We have one officer on duty at a time,” Boyce said

Blankenship was described as 5 feet, 10 inches tall, 175 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes, with a scruffy goatee. He was last seen wearing blue jeans and a white-and-gray hoodie sweatshirt.

He was charged Wednesday with felony auto theft.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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