A Navy electrician sentenced to three years for trying to smuggle explosives after a deployment to Afghanistan has escaped at the Trident submarine base on Hood Canal, and his wife is under a security watch, officials said.
BANGOR, Wash. — A Navy electrician sentenced to three years for trying to smuggle explosives after a deployment to Afghanistan has escaped at the Trident submarine base on Hood Canal, and his wife is under a security watch, officials said.
James Tait Praefke, 37, an aviation electrician’s mate from the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station near Oak Harbor, was helping a guard retrieve lunches for other brig inmates Sunday when the guard somehow lost track of him, said Lt. Cmdr. John Daniels of Navy Region Northwest.
According to a wanted poster released by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Praefke has a history of weapons use, domestic violence and drunken driving; espouses pro-militia, anti-government views, and is experienced in making bombs.
Oak Harbor police said they were working with the Navy to intercept him if he tries to reach his frightened wife, who is staying with their children in secure housing under Navy supervision.
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“It’s definitely a concern of everybody’s that he would do that, but it’s just as likely that he would flee the area,” police Capt. Rick Wallace said.
Praefke, who has used the aliases James Walter Praefke and James Tait Krueger, was arrested in February when a bomb-sniffing dog detected a grenade and other explosives in one of his bags as he tried to clear Customs upon returning from Afghanistan, Daniels said.
“He had no legitimate reason to have that,” Daniels said.
Praefke was court-martialed, convicted of possessing stolen ammunition and illegally storing explosives and sentenced on Oct. 4 to three years in the brig. He was being held at the base at Bangor pending transfer to a long-term Navy prison in San Diego.
If convicted of desertion and escape he could face as much as eight years of additional imprisonment, Daniels said.
The poster said Praefke is 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds with green eyes and red hair, was last seen wearing desert camouflage and should be considered armed, dangerous and likely to resist arrest.
Praefke was sent to Afghanistan in August 2004 with Electronic Attack Squadron 133, an EA6B Prowler unit from the Whidbey Island base, and was awarded an Army Achievement Medal for meritorious service with the force protection department, which handled convoy and base security with Combined Joint Task Force 76.
His wife Keran told the Whidbey News-Times earlier this month she is afraid of her husband.
“He’s a terrorist,” she said. “He never had to explain what he was going to do with the explosives. It’s not just my family that’s in danger. When he gets out, I don’t know what he’ll do.”