Pacer Topanates "spaced off" his court date on a littering citation and was booked into jail in Vernal on March 23.

And there he stayed and stayed.Officials are blaming a bureaucratic foul-up for Topanates spending 12 days in eastern Utah's Uintah County Jail for letting a beer can fall off the top of his pickup and onto government land.

"I didn't know what the heck was going on and nobody would tell me," Topanates said Friday, hours after his release and still 50 miles from his Myton home without a car. "I would hate to see what happened if you did something worse."

Generally, state and federal courts are required to bring prisoners before a magistrate or judge within 72 hours of arrest.

"It looks like something has gone wrong," said Melodie Ry-dalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Salt Lake City, which may review the case.

Topanates was caught littering by a U.S. Bureau of Land Management officer in January. He admittedly "spaced off" his court date and was tossed behind bars in Vernal, 125 miles east of Salt Lake City.

Jailers said they were under the mistaken impression that the 19-year-old Topanates had not paid an old fine to the juvenile court in the nearby town of Duchesne. But Topanates, no longer a juvenile, had settled the debt in April 1997.

"It was an error on the court's part, apparently," said Uintah County Chief Deputy Bob Van Derbusse.

Probation supervisor Ron Tol-lef-son at the Duchesne juvenile court said he didn't know anything about the case and declined to com-ment.

Topanates was freed after an unidentified caller phoned part-time U.S. Magistrate Clark Allred at 11:30 a.m. in eastern Utah on Friday and asked him to convene a hearing on the prisoner.

Allred said it was the first he had heard of Topanates' plight.

"For some reason, notice didn't get to my office," he said. "I thought the officer who picked him up was supposed to call."

Allred fined the man $25 for littering and sent him on his way.