Agent: Pilot mutters 'die' as run from law ends

CHATTAHOOCHEE, Fla. (AP) -- An investment manager who apparently staged a plane crash to evade personal and financial ruin was barely conscious and muttered the word "die" when federal agents found him bleeding from a slashed wrist, an investigator said Wednesday.

U.S. Marshals apprehended Marcus Schrenker, 38, late Tuesday at a northern Florida campground two days after the amateur daredevil pilot apparently tried to fake his own death in a plane crash. Authorities believe he parachuted to the ground and later sped off on a red motorcycle he had stashed in central Alabama.

Schrenker, who already faces mounting debt and a crumbling marriage, is looking at more trouble ahead. Authorities may try to charge him for the cost of the search, he's been charged with financial fraud in Indiana and criminal charges related to the crash could be coming in Florida.

"We were happy to know that he is alive and safe. Our first thoughts were of his children - but now we're going to make sure he's being held properly accountable for his actions," said Jeffrey Wehmueller, administrative chief deputy for Indiana's Hamilton County.

Schrenker's run ended at the campground late Tuesday, when officers discovered him bleeding from a self-inflicted gash to the wrist. It wasn't clear how he was tracked to the campsite, and investigators were tight-lipped about the clues that tipped them off.

The gash was serious, said Frank Chiumento, an assistant chief with the U.S. Marshals in Florida, and he was rushed to the hospital by a medical helicopter. He was bleeding from his left arm, had a slashed wrist and there was a puncture wound near his elbow, Chiumento said.

"Just as we were administering first aid to him we were giving him assurances that he would be OK and he seemed to mutter some words that he was resistant to that. He muttered 'die' at one time as if he didn't want the first aid that we were rendering to him," Chiumento said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Schrenker arrived at the campground Monday night riding his motorcycle, and paid $25.75 in cash for a night on the grounds, said Caroline Hastings, 32, who owns and operates the campground with her husband. She gave him a code to use wireless Internet, and he paid for four bottles of water and six bundles of firewood, she said. He also bought a six-pack of Bud Light Lime, and said he was leaving in the morning. But by Tuesday, he still wasn't gone, and hadn't paid for another night.

"He said he was going across the country with some buddies. He wanted to stop. He didn't know if they would," Hastings said.

Schrenker is expected to be kept in a local hospital until Thursday and then to be held in the Gadsden County jail pending extradition to Indiana, a sheriff's office spokesman said. After the crash, a judge there ordered his arrest on financial fraud charges that allege he acted as a financial adviser after his state license expired.

A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because no charges have been publicly filed yet, said prosecutors in Florida are considering whether to charge Schrenker with two federal crimes: one for making a false distress call, and another for recklessly letting his plane crash.

Schrenker fled not only the law but divorce, a state investigation of his businesses and angry investors who accuse him of stealing potentially millions in savings they entrusted to him.

On Sunday - two days after burying his stepfather and suffering a half-million-dollar loss in federal court the same day - Schrenker was flying his single-engine Piper Malibu to Florida from his Indiana home when he reported the windshield had imploded over central Alabama.

Then his radio went silent.

Military jets tried to intercept the plane and found the door open, the cockpit dark. The aircraft crashed more than 200 miles farther south in a Florida Panhandle bayou surrounded by homes. Police believe he parachuted to the ground in central Alabama, then reclaimed the motorcycle he'd stashed in a storage unit and sped away.

It looked like he was escaping a mounting avalanche of personal and professional problems. Authorities in Indiana have been investigating Schrenker's financial management businesses on allegations that he sold clients annuities and charged them exorbitant fees they weren't aware they would face.

State Insurance Commissioner Jim Atterholt said Schrenker would close the investors out of one annuity and move them to another while charging them especially high "surrender charges" - in one case costing a retired couple $135,000 of their original $900,000 investment.

He seemed aware his world was caving in. "I walked out on my job about 30 minutes ago," he wrote to plaintiffs in a lawsuit Dec. 16, according to text of a frantic-email cited in court documents. "My career is over ... over one letter in a trade error. One letter!! ... I've had so many people yelling at me today that I couldn't figure out what was up or down. I still can't figure it out."

It's unclear what the "error" was. In another e-mail to a neighbor after he disappeared, Schrenker referred to having "just made a 2 million dollar mistake."

On Dec. 31, officers searched Schrenker's home, seizing his family's passports, $6,036 in cash, the title to a Lexus and deposit slips for bank accounts in Michelle Schrenker's name. They also took six computers and nine large plastic tubs filled with various financial and corporate documents.

His wife also had filed for divorce, and told people searching the house that her husband had been having an affair. She stayed quiet Wednesday as news of his capture spread, but her lawyer posted a statement on his firm's Web site that said she had at one time hoped to reconcile with her husband.

"To Michelle's dismay, at the time her home was being searched, Marcus was in Florida with his girlfriend. Clearly, Michelle and her three young children are victims of this man's deceitfulness as well. She is not guilty of anything other than trusting her husband of 13 years," attorney Mary Schmid said.


Associated Press Writers Devlin Barrett in Washington, Rick Callahan, Ken Kusmer and Jeni O'Malley in Indianapolis, and Harry Weber in Atlanta also contributed to this report.

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