A fugitive who officials said evaded Washington state prison authorities and nation-wide law enforcement for more than a decade was caught under the least likely of circumstances: while working as a bartender at a private house party in suburban Chicago.
Michael Allen Hammons, 49, was arrested the morning of Jan. 1 in Naperville after party guests said the hired bartender became intoxicated, threw up inside the home and refused to leave when confronted.
“We asked him to leave and he got a little confrontational and was demanding the rest of his money but I said, ‘absolutely not,’” said homeowner Mandi Gossick.
Gossick’s plans for a perfect New Year’s Eve party did not include a brush with a fugitive.
While planning her event, she searched online for bartenders and ultimately found one through an event planning company called Serve and Pour. According to the service agreement, the business promised Gossick a highly-trained and certified professional.
“Everybody was really excited that they weren’t going to have to spend big money in the city,” Gossick said.
Until New Year's, Hammons was apparently going by the name Mike Peck and living in a condo on Chicago’s North Side. But no one could predict the bang the New Year was about to bring.
Guests said the bartender who presented himself as Mike Peck was drinking alcohol and doing a poor job of pouring their drinks.
“He was there trying to have a good time and make a quick buck,” guest Kevin Goddard said.
Goddard said the bartender vomited on the floor just outside the first floor bathroom. Then, he said Peck went right behind the bar and started making drinks.
“He tried to play it off as if no one was going to find out,” Goddard said.
Gossick and her guests said they asked Peck to leave and when he refused they contacted the Naperville Police Department.
The police report said by the time officers arrived, Peck was outside and cutting through some of the neighboring homes’ backyards. Police said Peck seemed highly intoxicated. He was later transported to the Naperville Jail for processing.
Police said Peck was carrying a folder full of identification documents and that some of the forms were altered. They noticed discrepancies with his listed date of birth. Police ran a criminal history check and found there was a warrant out of Washington for “escape from a work release program."
That’s when it was discovered Mike Peck was actually Michael Hammons. Hammons was charged in Naperville with Fugitive from Justice, Disorderly Conduct and Obstructing Identification.
Police called Gossick the next morning with the startling new information.
“I move to what’s listed as the third safest city in the nation and all of a sudden I have a fugitive in my home,” Gossick said. “It’s a little different.”
Hammons was serving an 18-month sentence for a theft conviction in Washington in 2002 when he escaped from the Reynolds Work Training Release Facility in Seattle.
“He’d been signed out for a pass, which is not atypical for a person for work release in Washington state. He left and he did not return,” said Anmarie Aylward, assistant secretary in charge of community corrections for the Washington Department of Corrections.
Aylward said most work release inmates who purposely leave the facility are eventually found. But Hammons apparently slipped through the system and went undetected for nearly thirteen years.
“We would send out the alerts and people would be searching or looking for him,” Aylward said. “We reviewed the nation-wide warrant routinely, several times a year.”
Then a fateful bartending gig in Naperville landed Hammons back behind bars. He is currently in custody at the DuPage County Jail awaiting his court date scheduled for Feb. 2.
Prison officials said they expect Hammons will be extradited to Washington soon after his court appearance.
“Mr. Hammons is wanted for escape so he would be held accountable for that behavior and he would owe time to the state of Washington,” Aylward said.
Serve and Pour apologized to Gossick and refunded her deposit. The company fired the bartender they knew as Mike Peck, according to an email they sent to Gossick. Serve and Pour did not return our repeated requests for comment.
The state of Illinois performs extensive background checks on licensed professionals like doctors, nurses and security personnel. However, bartenders do not receive any form of liquor license from the state. A spokesperson from the Illinois Liquor Control Commission said while not impossible, it is doubtful that bartenders are regulated or licensed at the local level.