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Man Accused of Posing as Official at Bridge Collapse

June 09, 2002|CLAYTON BELLAMY | Associated Press Writer

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 from the site. Authorities said Friday that the man is an ex-convict from Missouri who impersonated an officer to get free food, lodging and a pickup truck.

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

Authorities identified the man as Billy Clark, 36, of Tallapoosa, Mo.

Clark allegedly arrived in Webbers Falls just two hours after the May 26 bridge collapse and told Mayor Jewell Horne that he was in charge. He took charge at the launch site that sent rescue boats to where the section of the bridge collapsed into the Arkansas River, 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.' "

Crawford County, Ark., authorities issued an arrest warrant for Clark Thursday on one charge of felony theft of services, alleging he did not pay the $900 bill for eight rooms he had rented at a motel May 28.

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

Clark allegedly told Van Buren police he was a Special Forces captain from Fort Carson, Colo., on leave from Pakistan.

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. The man's manner was very convincing, Milligan said.

"He knew what he was doing," he said.

Clark was released from the Central Missouri Correctional Center on Dec. 11 after serving three years for stealing, 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.

It's just the latest in a string of alleged impostors who have bluffed their way into restricted areas after national disasters.

A man who posed as a volunteer firefighter to gain access to the collapsed World Trade Center was sentenced in March to one to three years in prison. Another man was sentenced to six months in jail in 1996 for impersonating a doctor at the TWA Flight 800 crash site.

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