AUGUSTA — A Fairfield man living on the lam since fleeing his trial for a driving violation nearly walked free Friday when he allegedly assumed the identity of a fellow inmate in a bid to escape from jail.

William Joseph McLain Jr., 29, whose attempted identity switch was discovered, remained behind bars Tuesday in lieu of an extra $7,500 cash bail on new charges of aggravated forgery and theft by unauthorized taking or transfer.

McLain debuted his Houdini act in April 2010, when he fled Kennebec County Superior Court during trial on a charge of operating after revocation.

In that instance, McLain told his attorney he was going outside to smoke — and never returned. Justice Nancy Mills ultimately released jurors, who had waited four hours to hear the evidence, and a warrant was issued for McLain’s arrest.

McLain was arrested last week and appeared by video Friday in district court.

Judge Susan Sparaco set bail at $5,000 on the charge of failure to appear and denied bail on the underlying charge of operating after revocation.

Also taking part in the video hearing was Frederick Horne, 43, of Augusta, who was arrested early Friday morning and charged with disorderly conduct. Horne was to be released for time served.

After the hearing, both men were sent to intake at the jail and were waiting to go to their respective destinations, said Capt. Dan Davies of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Department.

“Horne was getting released,” Davies said. “McLain had been sitting in the arraignment with him. He understood Horne was leaving.”

Horne left the intake area to take a shower before departing, Davies said.

Corrections Officer Michael Bedard, who was familiar with neither Horne nor McLain, called Horne’s name to begin processing him for departure.

“When Bedard called, (McLain) answered him, saying, ‘Yes,'” Kennebec County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Bronson wrote in an affidavit filed in Superior Court. “Bedard asked William, ‘Are you Horne?’ and William replied, ‘Yes.'”

McLain went up to the booking desk, forged Horne’s signature and took Horne’s property and release papers, Bronson said. McLain then went into the bathroom to change into Horne’s clothes.

Corrections officers then took McLain’s photo to place it into the jail’s system under Horne’s name.

Corrections Officer Christopher Spenard came into the area recognized McLain from the video arraignment. Spenard remembered McLain been denied bail, Bronson said.

“Spenard yelled, ‘That is not Horne!’ and William (McLain) still did not respond” Bronson said. “Spenard then yelled, ‘That is McLain!'”

McLain acknowledged his true identity when confronted by corrections officers.

McLain changed back into jail clothing.

Horne’s clothes and other items were returned to their rightful owner, and he was released.

Davies said identity checks built into the process would have exposed McLain’s attempt even if Spenard had not recognized him.

“Obviously, he did not get outside the facility,” Davies said. “He would never have made it out of the facility.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

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