AWOL Marine flees police
Larry Neff/Special to the TIMES NEWS Luke S. Zetts, 18, of Weissport, is pinned to the ground by state troopers. Zetts was originally taken into custody by Lehighton Police on a warrant as a deserter from the U.S. Marines. While in handcuffs, he allegedly attacked the police officer, fled on foot, and then jumped into the Lehigh River before being recaptured.
A Weissport Marine who allegedly was AWOL fought with a police officer when taken into custody Monday morning. He then fled while wearing handcuffs, and leaped into the Lehigh River in a desperate attempt to avoid recapture.
Luke S. Zetts, 18, of White Street, eventually was placed into custody a second time when police officers pulled him from the cold, swirling waters of the river after he had been in it for over a half-hour.
Zetts was taken to the Gnaden Huetten Campus of Blue Mountain Health System, Lehighton, where he was reportedly treated for hypothermia.
He was then arraigned before District Judge Edward M. Lewis of Jim Thorpe, after which he was committed to the Carbon County Correctional Facility in lieu of $75,000 straight bail.
He has been charged with aggravated assault on a law enforcement official, which is a felony; escape, and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors.
A preliminary hearing has been tentatively scheduled for Oct. 10.
Zetts told police, according to court documents, that he left the military "due to depression and suicidal thoughts." He also stated, the court affidavit says, "that while he was in custody, he started to freak out and just wanted to run."
The situation detonated after Lehighton Chief of Police Neal Ebbert had Zetts in custody at the rear of the Lehighton Police Station on South Third Street at about 9:30 a.m. Zetts was taken into custody on an armed forces warrant for being an alleged "deserter/absentee."
The affidavit states that Ebbert was then assaulted by Zetts.
The arresting officer, Patrolman Brian H. Biechy of the Lehighton Police Department, states:
"According to Chief Ebbert, the offender was able to get behind him and slid his hands while handcuffed over Chief Ebbert's head and around his neck, after both Chief Ebbert and the offender fell to the ground during the struggle."
It states that Zetts was advised to "stop resisting to which he failed to comply with the orders," the affidavit says. "Chief Ebbert was able to release the offender's grasp and the offender fled, handcuffed, on foot."
Lehighton police immediately summoned mutual aid assistance from surrounding departments.
Zetts, meanwhile, was located by the Lehigh River.
According to the affidavit, "During the pursuit, the offender jumped into the Lehigh River and was spotted by several police officers (including Biechy). Several officers yelled to the offender to stop. The offender refused and continued to swim from side to side of the Lehigh River, including floating down the middle to avoid capture."
Zetts exited the river at about 11:15 a.m., nearly two hours after the incident began, and was taken into custody.
Lehighton police officers were assisted in the apprehension of Zetts by police officers from Jim Thorpe, Franklin Township, Mahoning Township, East Penn Township, Palmerton, and the Lehighton barracks of the state police. A state police helicopter and the Lehighton Fire Department water rescue unit were initially dispatched, but then canceled when Zetts was apprehended.
Ebbert was treated and released at the Lehighton hospital for injuries sustained from his assault from Zetts.
The Lehighton Ambulance Corps also assisted.
Zetts reportedly had traveled about a half mile down the Lehigh River, wearing the handcuffs, before his freedom came to an end.