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Wyoming man arrested after 31 years on the lam

Jun 29, 2012 - By Mark Thiessen, The Associated Press

Welch sentenced to serve 16 months to six years in Carbon County on Sept. 16, 1980, for forgery and burglary.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A Wyoming man who escaped from state custody 31 years ago has been arrested in Alaska.

Seldovia Police Chief Shad Haller arrested Joseph Welch, 57, while Welch was eating dinner Monday evening by himself at the Tide Pool Restaurant.

"I had seen him around and made contact," Haller said Thursday.

"I cuffed him and told him I had a warrant," Haller said. "He really seemed a little puzzled."

When Haller explained the basis for the warrant, Welch said, "Oh, that was 31 years ago," according to Haller.

"I said, 'Yeah, that's what it was,'" Haller said. "It was quiet, and it went smooth."

Welch was held overnight and then delivered to the state court system in Homer on Tuesday.

Welch is being held pending extradition, which the Wyoming governor will seek from Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, said Tim Lockwood, spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Corrections.

Welch was sentenced to serve 16 months to six years in Carbon County on Sept. 26, 1980, for forgery and burglary, Lockwood said.

He served time in the state penitentiary in Rawlins before being transferred to the state hospital in Evanston for substance abuse treatment. He escaped from the hospital in May 1981, and has been on the lam since, Lockwood said.

Troopers in Palmer, Alaska, received a report from Wyoming officials on June 14 that Welch may be living in nearby Wasilla.

The Alaska Fugitive Task Force searched for Welch for two days before finding out he may working in Seldovia. They then alerted Haller and sent him a picture of Welch.

Troopers say it appears Welch has been living in Alaska for at least 12 years, holding road construction-related jobs.

It wasn't immediately known what he was doing in Seldovia, but troopers say there's a lot of road construction work going on there this summer.

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