Search for driver in fatal crash limited when he left halfway house

Posted: Friday, November 30, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A man who caused Tuesday's fatal crash on the Parks Highway walked away from an Anchorage halfway house in July, and apparently authorities did little to find him.

State corrections and law enforcement officials did act quickly when John Knauss left the Glenwood Center halfway house July 10, requesting and getting a warrant for his arrest the next day.

But Alaska State Troopers say they don't know if anyone tried to locate Knauss in the intervening months before he drove his vehicle across the center line and slammed into a truck driven by Linda Mack of Big Lake. Mack, 35, was critically injured and her 4 1/2-year-old son, Floyd Jr., was killed. Mack's 15-year-old daughter Jeanette Seybert, was hurt.

The warrant for Knauss' arrest on a misdemeanor charge of unlawful evasion was put in a state computer database available to all officers, troopers said. But officers -- overwhelmed with thousands of other warrants, including higher-priority felony warrants -- likely didn't try to search for him.

''It's a difficult situation,'' troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson told the Anchorage Daily News. ''We don't have unlimited resources to track down people.''

As of Thursday, troopers had 2,800 outstanding arrest warrants just in Anchorage, said Lt. Dan Lowden, who heads the troopers' Judicial Services division. About 900 of those, or a third, are felony warrants, including those for people wanted on charges like murder and assault.

There's no way officers can find all those people, Lowden said.

Even the Alaska Fugitive Task Force -- a team set up in 1999 to reduce the backlog of warrants -- can't keep up, said Randy Johnson, acting chief of the U.S. Marshals Service's Anchorage office.

But relatives of Linda Mack said they don't understand how Knauss, who was serving a three-year sentence for drunken driving and assault, got away from the halfway house in the first place.

''We would like to know why is someone able to walk out of a halfway house and nobody do anything about it,'' said Linda Mack's brother Lloyd Seybert.

Bruce Richards, a state Department of Corrections spokesman, said officials carefully screen people before placing them in halfway houses, which have minimal security measures.

''Unfortunately, nobody has a crystal ball to predict what someone might do,'' he said. ''We have these tools in place to screen people, and it works 99 percent of the time.''

Between 100 and 160 people have walked away from the 10 halfway houses statewide in each of the past three years, Richards said. That's less than 2 percent of the thousands of people who placed in the centers, he said.

The department does not keep track of how many of those who walk away are recaptured or commit new offenses, Richards said.

Troopers said they were tracking down leads to find where Knauss was staying before Tuesday's crash and are awaiting lab results to see if he was intoxicated at the time of the crash. Knauss, 42, remained in critical condition at Providence Alaska Medical Center.

Knauss was serving time for driving while intoxicated and felony assault that stemmed from a 1999 accident in which he ran a red light in downtown Wasilla and smashed into a pickup truck, seriously injuring the driver.

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