Prison inmate escapes using firetruck

Prison inmate escapes using firetruck

01 January 2012

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USA — A 51-year-old inmate who used a yellow prison firetruck to escape Sunday from Donovan Correctional Facility in Otay Mesa remains at large, officials said Monday.

Thomas Francis Kelley, a 51-year-old car thief in jail for a parole violation, escaped from Donovan Correctional Facility in Otay Mesa Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012 Thomas Francis Kelley is a car thief who was in jail for a parole violation, Donovan spokesman Lt. Patrick Logan said.

“It appears he just jumped in the vehicle and left,” said Logan, who added that inmates assigned to firefighting duties are rigorously screened and given a small amount of freedom, as they are housed outside the secure perimeter of the prison.

Logan said law enforcement officials are fairly confident Kelley is in the Spring Valley area and are focusing the search there.

Two versions of the escape have emerged.

On Sunday, sheriff’s officials said they received a call shortly before 8:30 p.m. that two men were having trouble parking a yellow firetruck in a 7-Eleven parking lot in Spring Valley at Jamacha Road and Elkelton Boulevard.

When deputies arrived, the truck was there but the men were gone, sheriff’s Lt. Kelly Stuart said.

A news release from Donovan prison on Monday morning said a deputies saw a fire engine driving erratically in Spring Valley, about 10 miles from the prison. When the deputies pulled the engine over, the driver jumped out and ran away.

Deputies put out an immediate all-points bulletin, the news release said. Kelley also was discovered missing during a count at the prison at 9:30 p.m.

Kelley is described as white, between 5 feet 6 inches and 5 feet 7 inches tall, 170 pounds with light brown hair and blue eyes. He is clean shaven and wears prescription glasses. He was last seen wearing light blue faded jeans, a blue jean jacket and construction boots.

He was sent to state prison for vehicle theft in August 2008. In November 2010, a parole violation landed him at Donovan, where he was housed at a minimum security facility and assigned as an inmate firefighter.

He was scheduled for release in December 2013.

According to public records, at least four criminal cases have been filed against him in San Diego County between 1991 and 2010.

Donovan, near the Tijuana border, houses 3,900 minimum, medium and high-security inmates, to whom it offers academic and vocational education programs, work training in prison industries and inmate self-help group activities, according to the release.

For minimum security inmates, such as Kelley, there are opportunities for jobs in fire suppression and off-reservation work crews. They provide fire suppression for Donovan and can respond when other fire agencies put out calls for mutual aid.

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