A U.S. marshal was right Sunday when he wondered aloud why a 79-year-old man who had a run-in with two escaped murderers was still alive.

The two men had nothing to lose. Either they were going to outsmart law enforcement and stay on the loose a little longer, or they were going to get caught and return to face sentences even longer than the ones they already faced. Or they were going to die in a confrontation with their pursuers. They were desperate, and the odds were decidedly against them.

All of which re-emphasizes a point we made on this page last week. Even though Juan Diaz-Arevalo and Danny Gallegos had been good inmates from a discipline standpoint, the state never should have sent them to the Daggett County Jail, a medium-security facility. They are killers. They had parole hearing dates about 20 years down the road. Overcrowding or not, they belonged in a maximum-security facility, which is where, regardless how crowded the prison may be, they are headed now.

There is some good news in all this. Stories such as these demonstrate how even the most hardened criminals are no match for ordinary good citizens who respect the law and want to help each other. Because the killers spared the life of Bill Johnson, binding his arms and legs to a bedpost and covering him with a sleeping bag, they were caught in relatively short order. Johnson, a retired police officer, was able to free himself enough to hop to the roadside, where a young couple stopped to help. They, in turn, drove until they could get a cell-phone signal to call police.

Things could have ended much worse. The killers could have killed again. They could have continued their fugitive life, looking for more opportunities to steal, lie and hurt others in an effort to get away and cover their tracks.

We're glad the Utah Department of Corrections has ordered a comprehensive study of what went wrong. The Daggett County Jail suffered from some obvious security shortcomings that need to be corrected. But the department itself needs to take responsibility for sending two desperate criminals to that jail in the first place. They needlessly put the public at risk.