Impostor at bridge collapse gets charged with car theft

Thursday, June 20, 2002

SEARCY, Ark. -- A man accused of impersonating a military officer to try to take control of rescue efforts after a deadly bridge collapse in Oklahoma has been charged in White County with theft of property.

William Clark, 36, of Tallapoosa, Mo., was arrested in Canada last week as he waited to board a ferry in Tobermory, Ontario, about 180 miles northwest of Toronto.

Clark showed up at Webbers Falls, Okla., within two hours of the Interstate 40 bridge collapse over the Arkansas River. A barge struck the bridge on May 26, killing 14 people.

Clark claimed he was a captain with U.S. Army Special Forces, authorities said. He is accused of getting free food, lodging and transportation by impersonating a military officer.

He pleaded guilty in Canada to one count of careless storage of a firearm and was sentenced to the days he already had served in jail. Police found a loaded rifle in a case behind the driver's seat of his vehicle.

Clark was turned over to U.S. authorities Wednesday at the border crossing at Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Clark now has a felony charge of theft of property in White County stemming from a May 29 incident. He is accused of obtaining a pickup truck from Truman Baker Dodge in Searcy after telling employees he needed it for official military business at the site of the bridge collapse.

A Searcy police report said Clark told a man at the dealership that he needed a vehicle to transport supplies to the bridge site, and that the local National Guard armory had shipped all its vehicles overseas.

Prosecutor Chris Raff filed the charge Friday in White County Circuit Court.

According to the Missouri Department of Corrections, Clark was released from the Central Missouri Correctional Center on Dec. 11 after serving three years for theft. Missouri authorities say he also served two years of probation in 1999 for passing bad checks.

Clark was deported from Canada in 1998 after a fraud conviction in Toronto.

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