April 18, 2012

Officials search for two escaped inmates, including man convicted of Wichita murders

An inmate convicted of first-degree murder in a Wichita gang shooting and another man serving time for crimes in two Kansas counties were still at large late Wednesday after escaping from the Ottawa County Jail.

An inmate convicted of first-degree murder in a Wichita gang shooting and another man serving time for crimes in two Kansas counties were still at large late Wednesday after escaping from the Ottawa County Jail.

Santos Carrera-Morales is one of four inmates who escaped about 4:45 a.m. Wednesday from the jail, where the Kansas Department of Corrections is housing prisoners due to state prison overcrowding. He was serving time on two counts of first-degree murder in connection with a gang shooting in March 2007.

The escapees were armed with homemade knives and overpowered guards after complaining about a broken water line in the holding cell area, Ottawa County Sheriff Keith Coleman said.

The guards suffered minor injuries.

Law enforcement quickly captured one of the escapees, and another later turned himself in at a Walmart in North Platte, Neb. But Carrera-Morales, 22, and the fourth escapee remained on the run and were considered dangerous, said corrections spokesman Jeremy Barclay.

The Corrections Department has asked area law enforcement to be on the lookout for Carrera-Morales, said Wichita Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz on Wednesday.

Police arrested Carrera-Morales, then 17, and two other men after Julio Morales, 16, and Adrian Vega, 18, were fatally shot while Morales worked on a car in the 9000 block of East Harry.

“Citizens saw this happen, and we caught them right after,” Stolz said. “There was quite a bit of media about the citizens’ role in the apprehension of the suspects.”

Wednesday, corrections officials were searching for two vehicles believed to be involved in the escape – a gold 2002 Nissan Altima with a license plate of 649-CIC, and a tan 2005 Chevrolet Venture with a license plate of 854-DZQ.

Also at large Wednesday was Eric James, a news release from KDOC said. He was convicted of aggravated robbery in Bourbon County, two counts of aggravated burglary and kidnapping in Anderson County and two counts of criminal damage in Allen County. All of those crimes happened in February 2008, according to online Department of Corrections records.

Authorities said it wasn’t clear to them whether James and Carrera-Morales were traveling together. The escapees were among 22 men sent to the Ottawa County jail from the Ellsworth Correctional Facility.

Records show Carrera-Morales, who is 5 feet 9 inches and about 170 pounds with brown eyes and black hair, has been in trouble 39 times while in custody.

The KDOC has disciplinary reports against him alleging dangerous contraband, fighting and lying. His last writeup was on Nov. 17, 2011, records show. James has had 38 violations since May 2009.

Overcrowding in Kansas’ prisons has been exacerbated in recent years by budget cuts and prison closures. As of Friday, 87 inmates were being housed in county jails under contracts to help alleviate the overcrowding, Barclay said.

Inmate counts earlier this year showed that men’s prisons were housing 8,635 inmates, 266 over capacity, while women’s prisons were expected to exceed capacity in about seven years, according to the Kansas Sentencing Commission. In the next decade, Kansas’ prisons are projected to be short about 2,000 beds.

Lawmakers are considering providing more funding and beds in state prisons. Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed using revenue from state-owned casinos to reopen a prison facility that was closed because of budget restraints in 2009. The Republican also wants to expand contracts with county jails.

The Corrections Department would rather purchase the St. Francis Boys’ Home near the prison in Ellsworth to provide 95 additional beds.

“We’d better get that done because, apparently, farming them out doesn’t work,” Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Republican whose district includes the prison, said, adding that he’s concerned that budget cuts have gone too far.

Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw said the only time the downtown Wichita jail typically holds state prison inmates is if they are returning to the county for a court hearing.

“Part of the state’s plan, rather than building more prison space, is to rent out space from county jails,” Hinshaw said. “I was unaware that Ottawa County was doing that. I would not be interested in it and neither would the county commissioners because we have more inmates than we’ve got beds now.”

Contributing: Deb Gruver of The Eagle; Associated Press; Kansas City Star

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