Last of 4 Kansas escapees captured in Nebraska

By John Hanna

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 20 2012 7:27 p.m. MDT

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — The last of four inmates who had escaped from a north-central Kansas county jail was recaptured in Nebraska after nearly three days on the run, an incident that raised questions about the state's management of prison overcrowding.

The Kansas Department of Corrections said Eric James, 22, was arrested by police in Omaha, Neb., at about 5:30 p.m. Friday and was in custody. Department spokesman Jeremy Barclay said officials expected to begin legal proceedings Monday to return him to Kansas.

Omaha police spokesman Michael Pecha did not have additional details about James' arrest.

Barclay said Omaha police also found a gold 2002 Nissan Altima that was believed to be stolen by the escaped inmates in Minneapolis, Kan., home to the Ottawa County Jail that the inmates escaped from Wednesday morning. The Ottawa County sheriff has said the inmates used homemade knives to overpower two guards, get into the jail's control room and open doors.

The other three inmates — including a convicted murderer — had been recaptured and returned to the state prison in Ellsworth, where they were being segregated, Barclay said. The escapees had been among 22 inmates moved to the Ottawa County Jail from Ellsworth, 50 miles away, because of overcrowding at the state prison.

"Law enforcement and the media were absolutely essential in getting the word out," Barclay said. "Law enforcement did a lot of legwork."

After Wednesday's jailbreak, the Department of Corrections returned the remaining 18 inmates to the Ellsworth prison and started reassessing its contract to house inmates in Ottawa County.

State legislators are now looking at with more urgency at projects that could increase bed space in state prisons, and some have expressed misgivings about having inmates housed in four county jails.

Two of the escaped inmates were caught Wednesday. Convicted murderer and escapee Santos Carrera-Morales, 22, was arrested late Thursday in Russell, Kan., about 80 miles from the jail, the Kansas Department of Corrections said.

Carrera-Morales was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of a teenager and a young man in Sedgwick County in March 2007.

Russell Police Chief Jon Quinday said two officers took Carrera-Morales into custody after a 911 caller alerted police to a suspicious person at a convenience store at a truck stop along Interstate 70. Quinday said Carrera-Morales told police he hitched a ride into the city.

"He was sitting on the side of the store," Quinday said.

Alberto Barraza-Lujan, 23, was the first inmate to be recaptured, done shortly after the escape. He was serving time for attempted aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer in 2011.

The second inmate, 21-year-old Drew Wade, turned himself in Wednesday evening at a Walmart in North Platte, Neb., about 240 miles northwest of the Ottawa County Jail. He had been serving time for robbery and aggravated battery. Authorities said Wade was driving a tan 2005 Chevrolet Venture minivan, which had been stolen.

Authorities had believed James was driving the stolen Altima. James was convicted of aggravated robbery, burglary, kidnapping and criminal damage to property for crimes in three southeast Kansas counties over 10 days in February 2008.

As of Thursday, the department said it still housed 86 male inmates in county jails under contracts paying the counties an average of $40 a day per inmate. The state also has contracts with jails in Butler, Cowley and Leavenworth counties, Barclay said.

County lockups must pass an inspection that includes a review of training and facilities before it can accept state inmates. An Ottawa County website said its jail can house 60 offenders and has eight corrections officers on staff. It opened in 1996, making it the smallest and oldest of the jails used for overflow.

Statewide, there are 8,654 male inmates, a number that exceeds the bed space by 212, or 2.5 percent.

Associated Press reporter John Milburn in Topeka, Kan., contributed to this report.

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