Texas authorities were searching early Friday for a convicted murderer who they say escaped from a correctional bus the day before after stabbing the driver in the hand and forcing the vehicle off a highway into a cow pasture.
Authorities deployed dogs and helicopters to search for the inmate, Gonzalo Artemio Lopez, 46, who was serving a life sentence for killing a man with a pickaxe.
“As you can see from his file, he’s very dangerous,” Robert Hurst, a public information officer with the state Department of Criminal Justice, said in a Thursday night phone interview.
Multiple police departments joined in the search for the detainee at an intersection of two major highways in a rural area of Leon County near the town of Centerville, Texas, which sits midway between Dallas to the north and Houston South. News footage of the manhunt showed police, some on horseback, searching farmland near the crash site, inspecting a fence and stopping vehicles.
Mr. Lopez escaped on Thursday afternoon as the long white bus, which was carrying several prisoners, traveled east along Highway 7. It was taking him from a jail in Gatesville, Texas, to a medical appointment in the town of Huntsville, Mr. Hurst mentioned.
“Somehow – we don’t know how – he manages to get out of his restraints and then manages to get into the driver’s compartment of the bus”, which was separated from the passenger area by a door, Mr. Hurst said.
Mr. Lopez got into a run-in with the driver, Randy Smith, stabbing him in the left hand with a gun and forcing the bus off the freeway, Mr. Hurst said, adding that the prisoner escaped as a he officer on the bus, Tommie Brinegar, shot him. He said authorities do not know what type of weapon Mr. Lopez used to stab the driver.
The other 15 inmates on the bus were restrained and did not leave the bus, Mr Hurst said. The driver’s injury was not life-threatening, he added.
Mr. Lopez was convicted of capital murder for killing a man in Hidalgo County 17 years ago after kidnapping him and attempting to ransom the victim’s wife, Mr. Hurst said . His record includes eight other offenses in Texas, including attempted capital murder and aggravated assault, all but one in Hidalgo County, prisoner records show. Mr. Hurst said Mr. Lopez was convicted of attempted capital murder for shooting the Webb County Sheriff’s Deputy.
“The most remarkable thing is that he killed a guy with a pickaxe,” he added.
Mr. Lopez’s first parole review is in April 2045, according to prisoner records. Its expected release date was not available.
The breakout occurred about a mile west of Centerville and about two-thirds of the 160-mile drive from Gatesville to Huntsville. A section of the freeway was later closed and the Leon County Sheriff’s Office warned nearby residents to keep their doors and vehicles locked.
Mr. Hurst said prisoner escapes were rare in Texas and that authorities planned to continue the search for Mr. Lopez in an area of about 10 square miles that was somewhat hilly and included farmland, forests and streams .
“We won’t stop searching until we find it,” he said.