MONROE COUNTY, Fla. – A former U.S. Navy aviation electrician — who deputies consider an armed and dangerous fugitive — may be hiding in South Florida, investigators warned on Thursday. They believe the resourceful survivalist could be hiding in a boat or a recreational vehicle.
James Tait Praefke, 52, escaped on Nov. 13, 2005 from the brig at Naval Base Kitsap in Washington just before he was supposed to be transferred to a Navy prison in San Diego, according to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Praefke, who may be in the Florida Keys, is 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. He has green eyes, red hair, acne scars on his chin and neck, and a one-inch scar on his left shoulder blade. He is most likely using a false identity, but he has also been known as James Walter Praefke and James Tait Krueger.
In August 2004, Praefke was deployed to Afghanistan with Electronic Attack Squadron 133, an EA6B Prowler unit from the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington. When he returned to the station in February 2005, a bomb-sniffing dog detected explosives in his bag during a routine U.S. Customs inspection.
“At the time, Praefke served as the command logistics petty officer for packing/loading operations of command items for transport to and from Afghanistan,” NCIS spokesman Jeff Houston said Thursday night in a statement.
Praefke was court-martialed and convicted for theft of explosives. He was sentenced to three years in prison in October 2005. He could face eight more years in prison if he is found and convicted of desertion and escape charges.
Authorities are also considering the possibility that he sailed to the Caribbean Investigators are asking anyone with information about Praefke to call 911 if they feel at risk or call 1-800-543-6289 and submit a tip online on the NCIS site.