Fugitive arrested in Mont. after 24 years on the run


The Associated Press

KALISPELL, Montana — A Canadian man sought by authorities after crashing a rented airplane into a lake and swimming away as it sank with his girlfriend inside has been arrested in Texas after 24 years as a fugitive.

Jaroslaw "Jerry" Ambrozuk was arrested Wednesday on a warrant for negligent homicide in the August 22, 1982, death of 18-year-old Dianne Babcock.

Police in Plano, Texas, arrested the 43-year-old and set bail at $20,000. However, authorities said the Canadian national cannot pay bond because of outstanding immigration violations.

It was not known Thursday night if Ambrozuk has an attorney. A call to his house in Plano was not immediately returned.

Authorities said Ambrozuk, then 19, and Babcock were supposed to have been flying from Penticton, British Columbia, to Vancouver, British Columbia, when he somehow veered off course into Montana.

Authorities said Ambrozuk's strange behavior after the crash raised suspicion.

He did not report the crash or his girlfriend's death to authorities, he apparently built a campfire on the shore of the lake to dry off and then vanished.

Authorities know that Ambrozuk called a friend after the crash, saying the plane was at the bottom of Little Bitterroot Lake near Marion. He said he swam free of the wreckage, but Babcock's seat belt was jammed and he was unable to free her.

"We didn't really believe we would find the plane in Bitterroot Lake," said Sheriff Jim Dupont, who was a deputy at the time of the crash.

But a search found evidence along the shore of a campfire. In the burned debris, Dupont -- a pilot -- recognized plane parts. Searchers found the Cessna 150 in 220 feet of water.

Dupont said it didn't appear Ambrozuk tried to help Babcock.

"She wasn't injured to the point she couldn't get out of the aircraft," he said. "Why wouldn't he help her get out?"

Missing from the plane were cash and other items. A sealed, waterproof trash bag with a rope attached was found on the lake shore. People who later said they saw someone who looked like Ambrozuk on the shore said he was wet, but carrying a dry duffel bag. Authorities wondered if Ambrozuk had sealed the duffel inside the trash bag and removed it when he got to shore.

The mystery of the crash and Ambrozuk's disappearance was featured twice on the television program "America's Most Wanted."

Dupont said earlier he believed Ambrozuk might be in Texas. That was confirmed Monday when a woman called saying she believed Ambrozuk was living in Plano, Texas. Dupont contacted police in Texas and they found him.

When he was arrested Ambrozuk, living under the alias Michael Lee Smith, acknowledged his identity and asked for a lawyer, Dupont said.

Montana will extradite him on the negligent homicide charge.

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