KOTUS, Indiana – A handcuffed drug suspect who stole and wrecked a police cruiser in northwest Indiana is still on the loose, but he did not take any loaded weapons from the car, authorities said Wednesday.
William Francis Blankenship stole the car Tuesday from a local officer in the Porter County town of Kouts and then used the police radio to ask where to find the car's cigarette lighter -- and a key 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 sheriff's deputy did not tell Blankenship how to remove the handcuffs or use the cigarette lighter, and instead tried to talk Blankenship into pulling over and giving himself up, LaFlower said.
Police found the town cruiser Wednesday morning "wrecked and submerged in water" in a drainage ditch in nearby LaPorte County, but Blankenship, 22, of Knox, was no longer with the vehicle, LaFlower said. Police say no other vehicles were involved and they are investigating how the cruiser got there.
LaFlower said loaded weapons -- a handgun, shotgun and a rifle -- that had been left in the vehicle were still there when the wreck was discovered. Police had reported earlier that Blankenship should be considered armed and dangerous.
The sole police officer on duty Tuesday evening in Kouts arrested Blankenship on drug charges. The officer pulled Blankenship over in a convenience store parking lot in the town about 50 miles southeast of Chicago, and then placed the handcuffed suspect in the back of the patrol car while he went to search the man's car, LaFlower said.
"He was doing an inventory search when his car was taken," LaFlower said.
Authorities are trying to determine how Blankenship got out of the back seat of the patrol car. It's not clear if he had been locked inside the car. The officer did leave the car keys in the ignition, LaFlower said.
LaFlower said he doesn't know exactly when the officer knew Blankenship was fleeing, but said the officer used his portable radio immediately to let the Porter County Sheriff's Department know what happened and asked for assistance. The officer, who wasn't injured, had his service revolver with him.
LaFlower didn't explain the nature of the drug allegations. "That's still under investigation," he said.
Kouts Town Marshal David Freeland declined comment and referred questions to the sheriff's department.
The search for Blankenship has focused on the town of Knox, about 20 miles east of Kouts, where he has family and friends. The Porter County prosecutor's office obtained an arrest warrant Wednesday charging Blankenship with car theft, Chief Deputy Matt Frost said.
LaFlower said the sheriff's department planned to seek help in the search from the U.S. Marshal Service.