October 30, 2017
Police are disclosing how a West Coast man stole a Lake County sheriff commander’s squad car and led state and local authorities on a three-hour manhunt before recapturing him last week.
Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr. and the Porter County prosecutor’s office made public Monday afternoon details of how Kiflay Gebrehiwot, 27, of Seattle, “did a Houdini” after being stopped by the newly reactivated Lake County Highway Interdiction Unit.
Gebrehiwot is being held in the Porter County Jail on felony charges of escape, resisting law enforcement, auto theft, dealing in marijuana and possession of a firearm without a permit. Bond was set at $75,000.
Martinez said the incident began Thursday afternoon on the Indiana Toll Road near the Chesterton-Valparaiso exit at Ind. 49 when Lake County Interdiction Cmdr. Alfred Villarreal stopped the suspect for a traffic violation.
The sheriff said Villarreal found four plastic bags of a green leafy substance consistent with marijuana in the suspect’s car. Villarreal handcuffed the suspect’s hands behind his back and put him in Villarreal’s front passenger seat with the seat belt on.
While Villarreal continued to search the suspect’s car, the sheriff said, Gerehiwot was able to release the seat belt and slip his legs through his cuffed arms so that his arms were now in front of his body.
“In all the years of interdiction, this hadn’t happened before,” Martinez said. “Commander Villarreal did follow all policies and procedures in putting someone in custody, but (Gebrehiwot) is a skinny person and was able to do a Houdini.
“He jumped into the driver’s seat, put the car in drive and fled,” the sheriff said. County officers gave chase.
“He only got about two miles where he went off the roadway and into an embankment. He ran up the embankment, still handcuffed, and ran into the woods.”
Martinez said police set up a perimeter around the wooded area with backup from Indiana State Police troopers, Indiana excise police, Hobart, New Chicago and Merrillville police and the Porter County Sheriff’s Department. The Lake County police helicopter and an Indiana State Police airplane hovered above.
He said officers caught Gebrehiwot about three hours later walking out of the woods and into a subdivision, still in handcuffs.
Martinez said the department is in the process of equipping Lake County police cars with “kill” switches to prevent unauthorized people from using them. The sheriff said the stolen squad car was undamaged.
The charges are filed in Porter Superior Court. No court date has been set.