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'Special Forces' Official at Okla. Bridge Operation Was Ex-Convict

Crime: Wearing fatigues and claiming to be 'in charge,' he allegedly got free food and lodging.

June 08, 2002|From Associated Press

TULSA, Okla. -- The man wearing a green beret and camouflage fatigues called himself Capt. William Clark from the Army's Special Forces. He arrived two hours after an interstate bridge collapsed and said he was in charge.

Some emergency workers listened to him for a few days until he disappeared. Authorities said Friday the man is an ex-convict from Missouri who impersonated an officer to get free food, lodging and a pickup.

"It's just a big ego trip," said Lt. Brent Grill, a police investigator in Van Buren, Ark., where the man is accused of not paying for rooms he rented. "It's a fantasy of his, which becomes a reality when he gets to play the part."

Authorities identified the man as Billy Clark of Tallapoosa, Mo.

Clark, 36, allegedly arrived in Webbers Falls just two hours after the May 26 bridge collapse and told Mayor Jewell Horne he was in charge. He handled the launch site that sent rescue boats into the Arkansas River to where the section of the Interstate 40 bridge collapsed, killing 14 people.

He already knew about one victim--Army Capt. Andrew Clements--before any bodies had been pulled from the river and asked to look through the victim's briefcase and laptop computer, the mayor said.

"He kept trying to say that he was in charge," Horne said. "I finally looked at him and said, 'No, you're not. Until the governor declares martial law, you are not in charge in this town.' "

Arkansas authorities in Crawford County issued an arrest warrant Thursday for Clark on one charge of felony theft of services, alleging that he didn't pay the $900 bill for eight rooms he rented at a motel May 28.

Clark told the clerk the rooms were for other rescuers and Clements' father, and he put "Do Not Disturb" signs on seven of the rooms, which were never occupied, Grill said.

Police in Searcy, Ark., about 230 miles from Webbers Falls, said a man who identified himself as a Special Forces captain went to a dealership and said he needed a truck to transport supplies to the bridge site. Clark left with a red pickup worth $10,600, employee Mike Milligan said.

Clark was released Dec. 11 from the Central Missouri Correctional Center after serving three years for theft, said Tim Kniest, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections. Clark also served two years of probation in 1999 for passing bad checks, Kniest said.

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