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Police Catch Drifter in Smart Case

June 21, 2002

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ The drifter wanted for questioning in the kidnapping of 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was caught Friday at a West Virginia hospital after checking himself in under a fake name with drug-related liver damage.

The capture of Bret Edmunds, 26, shed no immediate light on the June 5 abduction and police said again that he is not a suspect. But authorities said they were looking forward to talking with him and searching his car.

``We are anxious to look at him in all aspects of this case to find out if he’s a suspect,″ Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse said. ``There is a possibility that he could be critical to the point where he might not survive.″

Smart’s relatives said they hoped Edmunds might provide a break in the case.

``You’ve heard the term ’emotional roller-coaster,‴ said the girl’s uncle, Dave Smart. ``We’re not going to hang our hats on anything until we have Elizabeth in our hands.″

Edmunds was in intensive care at City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va. Authorities said they had not yet talked with him about Elizabeth, who was taken at gunpoint from her bedroom. Her 9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine Smart, was the sole witness to the abduction.

Authorities across the country had been looking for Edmunds because a Salt Lake City milkman remembered seeing him near the Smarts’ home two days before the kidnapping. The milkman recalled part of the license plate number of Edmunds’ car and passed it along to police.

Those plates, stolen from another car, were found last week along a road north of the city. Martinsburg is nearly 1,800 miles from Salt Lake City.

Edmunds was being held on a federal warrant charging him with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution on burglary, forgery and other charges unrelated to the Smart case. He has been considered a fugitive since October.

Edmunds checked in to the hospital Thursday with drug-related liver damage, police said. Authorities said he gave inconsistent information _ including an alias _ to hospital officials, and the FBI was notified Friday.

Edmunds has been in and out of consciousness, Dinse said. Authorities said he would not be moved from the hospital until his condition stabilized.

Federal officers will question Edmunds if they get a chance and others were being sent from Salt Lake City.

``All along Mr. Edmunds is someone we’ve wanted to talk to,″ Dinse said. ``He’s a question mark, and we want to put a period on that question mark.″

Police have more than 400 leads, some of them promising, Dinse said, but ``we don’t have a clear suspect in any one of them.″

A vehicle fitting the description of Edmunds’ Saturn sedan was found in the hospital’s parking lot. West Virginia State Police impounded the car, which will be searched for any evidence of the kidnapping, Dinse said.

Mary Katherine has described her sister’s abductor as a white man, 30 to 40 years old, between 5-8 and 5-10, with dark hair and hair. Edmunds is 6-2 and 235 pounds.

A statement signed by Ed Smart, Elizabeth’s father, says the family has looked at Edmunds’ photograph and doesn’t recognize him.

___

On the Net: http://www.elizabethsmart.com

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