LINCOLN — As an armed kidnapper fled Lincoln on Saturday with a terrified hostage, a state trooper asked that an alert about the suspected getaway car be posted on the 46 electronic message boards along Interstate 80.
The request was denied, in part because the victim was too old.
Julie Hanes, a 38-year-old hairdresser, was released unharmed Sunday evening in a southwest Nebraska cornfield by her captor, Dwayne Lawrence, her estranged husband. He then shot and killed himself.
On Monday, some law enforcement officials were wondering whether the roadside alert system should be available when an adult is kidnapped, not just when an Amber Alert is issued in a child's abduction.
Imperial Police Chief Rob Browning said the release to the public of a description of the suspected getaway car was key in locating the vehicle outside his community early Sunday.
Both Browning and Capt. Jim Davidsaver of the Lincoln police said using the message boards along I-80 would have spread the word even more.
“When we get a call like that, it's pretty much all hands on deck to get the word out,” Davidsaver said. “The more eyes and ears the better.”
The kidnapping began about noon Saturday, when Hanes was taken at gunpoint from the hair salon she owns in Lincoln. Hanes had filed for divorce on July 30. Two weeks earlier, she had obtained a protection order against Lawrence, telling a judge he had terrorized her with a gun at least three times in recent weeks.
Shortly after the abduction, Lincoln police released a description of the kidnapper and the suspected getaway car, a gold 1998 Chrysler Concorde. Browning said a farmer in the Imperial area was able to identify the vehicle based on information he got from media reports.
A request to post the information on Interstate message boards was rejected for two reasons, said Mary Jo Oie, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Roads.
First, the request didn't follow proper protocol, having come in a phone call from an individual trooper to the department's district office in Lincoln. “We just don't take phone calls,” Oie said. “It comes through a system.”
Second, other than messages about road conditions and drunken drivers, the boards are used only for abductions of children, she said.
The State of Iowa has the same policy. Willy Sorenson, a traffic engineer with the Iowa Department of Transportation, said Tuesday that a state committee decided years ago that allowing more than Amber Alerts to be posted would overwhelm the system.
“We do not want the Amber Alert program to get diluted,” Sorenson said. “Children are a special case.”
In both Iowa and Nebraska, specific criteria must be met before an Amber Alert is issued, including a description of an alleged suspect or vehicle.
In Nebraska, the written protocol to use the electronic message boards for an Amber Alert requires the Patrol's Crimes Against Children Unit to contact the Roads Department's 24-hour emergency number. According to the protocol: “The devices are primarily traffic control devices, and traffic control always has the highest priority.”
A spokeswoman for the Nebraska State Patrol, Deb Collins, said the patrol and the Department of Roads work well together on posting alerts about weather and reporting suspected drunken drivers.
She declined to say whether a posting about Saturday's kidnapping would have been helpful.
The Department of Roads is “very careful about what information they put on those boards,” Collins said.
On Monday, the beauty shop owned by Hanes was closed, and no one answered a knock at the door of her small brick home near the East Campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Browning said that Hanes, with whom he attended Imperial High School, was recovering well from her ordeal. He said she hugged him after walking out of the cornfield Sunday.
“She's happy to be alive, glad the situation is over,” the police chief said.
On Tuesday, Hanes' family issued a statement, thanking law enforcement for their efforts in finding their daughter and asking for privacy.
“While she has physically recovered from the weekend, full recovery will be ongoing with the encouragement of those who surround her,” the statement said.
It was a long, tense ordeal after the Saturday noon kidnapping.
The getaway car was first spotted about 4:30 a.m. MDT Sunday near the home of Hanes' parents in Imperial. Her parents operate a drugstore in the town of 2,000 about 275 miles west of Lincoln, as well as pharmacies in three nearby communities.
Several of the 10 to 15 guns owned by Lawrence, including an AR-15 assault rifle, had been taken away from him and stowed in Imperial after a July incident in which he threatened his wife and fired a pistol, according to Lincoln Police Chief Jim Peschong.
About three hours later, a farmer found the empty car parked next to a cornfield west of town. Two pairs of tracks led into the field. Authorities issued a “code red” to residents via an automated telephone call system, warning them to lock their doors and be alert.
Law enforcement officers from Imperial, Chase County, the State Patrol, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the FBI surrounded the 2-mile-wide field.
About 12 hours after the getaway car was spotted, Hanes walked out of a cornfield, dehydrated but unharmed. A single gunshot was heard moments later.
Browning said officials hope such situations end with everyone alive, but that under the circumstances, the victim was the main priority.
“Once she was safe, you could breathe a sigh of relief,” he said.