The good news for an alleged federal fugitive who splashed a snowplow into the Platte River on Tuesday was that people quickly showed up to rescue him.
The bad news for the suspect: His rescuers are on a fugitive task force. They had been tailing him. They fished him out of the river and arrested him.
The man was warm and dry by Tuesday night, but the authorities had him on ice. He was being held at the Douglas County Jail pending an initial hearing in federal court Wednesday afternoon.
The river rescue and collar played out at about 8:30 a.m Tuesday on Nebraska Highway 31 near Schramm State Park Recreation Area.
Metro Area Fugitive Task Force officers, including Sarpy County sheriff’s deputies and the U.S. Marshals Service, had a federal arrest warrant for the man. They had developed information that he would be near a Nebraska Department of Transportation maintenance shop at 234th Street and Highway 6, Deputy U.S. Marshal Will Iverson said. That’s on the outskirts of Gretna in Sarpy County.
The authorities had reason to believe the wanted man would be driving a State of Nebraska snowplow. That’s because the putative fugitive drove a snowplow on his job. He is, or was until Tuesday, employed as a Department of Transportation maintenance worker.
The officers spotted him driving a snowplow. They “followed discreetly from a distance,” for a few minutes as he drove, Iverson said. The big orange truck eventually rumbled south on Nebraska Highway 31 toward Schramm State Park.
The driver, perhaps noticing that he was being followed, proceeded with urgency on a stretch of road that runs hard by the Platte. South of the park, the truck plunged off the road and splashed into the icy river. It came to rest on its side in about 3 to 4 feet of water, Iverson said.
Iverson said it was unclear what caused the accident. It looked to him like the vehicle just drove off the highway, he said. No other vehicle was involved.
The man stood up in the truck. Officers rushed to the shore.
“He was exposed to some cold water,” Iverson said. “It took a few minutes to get a rope and a life jacket to him.”
The officers pulled the man to shore. He did not resist arrest, Iverson said.
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The man was sent to a hospital to be checked out before being booked into jail in Omaha. The authorities would not release his name Tuesday, nor say what charges he faces. Iverson said the arrest warrant was still sealed ahead of Wednesday’s court hearing.
A Department of Transportation spokeswoman confirmed that the man worked for the department, but, citing an ongoing criminal investigation, declined to comment further about his identity or how he came to be employed by the state.
“We learned of the accident itself when one of our own employees was out inspecting the roads, saw lights and law enforcement and one of our trucks was in the river,” Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jeni Campana said. “He worked with law enforcement to clear the accident scene.”
They managed to pull the truck from the river. It was pretty badly damaged, Campana said.