Escapee slips awaySearch effort fails after sighting in Dolton area.
By: Chris Huber, The Daily Republic
DOLTON — A large law enforcement contingent converged Wednesday on the Dolton area for a sighting of an escaped prisoner, but as of Wednesday evening the prisoner had not been found.
Numerous law enforcement personnel, two airplanes and police dogs were part of the response after a 911 caller reported a 10 a.m. Wednesday interaction with Oscar Antonio Herrera-Menjivar.
“We had people here within 20 to 25 minutes of the call and set up a perimeter shortly after that,” said Turner County Sheriff Byron Nogelmeier. “The citizen asked some pretty good questions to figure out who this person was and then called 911 right after he left.”
Nogelmeier said the escapee asked how to get to a main road, because he wanted to travel to Denver.
The caller said the escapee was wearing a dark gray T-shirt with an arrow and a motorcycle on it, and shorts. He was also barefoot, but his feet were wrapped with what appeared to be cloth. He is 5-feet-5, 140 pounds and has black hair and brown eyes.
Authorities from Nogelmeier’s department, along with the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, U.S. Marshals Service and South Dakota Highway Patrol, armed themselves with machine guns and bulletproof vests around 11 a.m. as they began to scour the cornfields in the area.
Dolton is a small town in Turner County, in southeast South Dakota. It’s about eight miles southeast of Bridgewater and about 25 miles southeast of Spencer, where the escape happened.
Herrera-Menjivar, 31, was one of 13 prisoners being taken to a Nebraska facility by a private prison-transport van Saturday. The van stopped at a fuel station along Interstate 90 near Spencer about 2 a.m., and Herrera-Menjivar managed to escape and flee to the south-southeast.
Nogelmeier said Wednesday the escapee should be considered dangerous and asked people in the Dolton and Marion areas to lock their doors.
Authorities believe he may be traveling north because it was his last-seen direction of travel, and because of footprints found in cornfields and scents picked up by dogs.
Temperatures in the high 90s and thick cornfields hindered the search effort Wednesday.
“It’s hard on the guys. We try to hydrate, but time gets away and you lose track in that corn,” Nogelmeier said.
Around 2:30 p.m., another dog and handler were brought in because the heat was taking its toll on the first set.
At that time, Nogelmeier said there was a 50-50 chance of catching the suspect.
“If we were talking at 8 tonight, I think our odds would be a lot better, because it would be cooler,” he said. “But we are doing the best we can right now.”
“The good thing is we don’t think he is moving real fast, either; it is hot in this cornfield.”
Herrera-Menjivar is wanted on a June 8 arrest warrant issued by Sarpy County in Papilion, Neb., south of Omaha.
He is charged with the May 25 first-degree sexual assault of a child, a 14-year old girl that he allegedly met on Facebook. Herrera-Menjivar took off for Florida shortly after the girl reported the crime to authorities.
On June 25, U.S. marshals and a fugitive task force from Omaha arrested Herrera-Menjivar near Fort Meyers, Fla.
He was being taken back to the Omaha area when he escaped from a private prisoner-transport van that made a fuel stop at Spencer Fuel Mart, off exit 353 in McCook County. The private company picked up other prisoners in a route that took the van into Wyoming, and the van was returning east on I-90.
A records clerk in Sarpy County said Herrera-Menjivar has not yet made an initial appearance before a judge.
Thomas Genz, a supervisory deputy with the U.S. Marshals Service in Sioux Falls, said two deputies assisted with the Wednesday search for Herrera-Menjivar.
Thick corn made tracking difficult, Genz said.
“From what my guys told me, he could be standing 5 feet away and you wouldn’t be able to see him.”
It’s unlikely, once Herrera-Menjivar is found, that he would be returned to the custody of the transport service that lost him, Genz said. It’s more likely he will be held until Nebraska officials come to pick him up. Wednesday, numerous officials contacted by The Daily Republic said they do not know the name of the transport company.
Travis Hofer lives two miles north of where the perimeter was set up Wednesday and said he was a little nervous when he first heard the escapee might be in the area.
“I called my mom right away and she didn’t call back for about five minutes, so that got me a little scared, but she is fine,” Hofer said.
“It’s not a good situation right now. I think we need to get the guy caught pretty quick, before he decides to do something stupid.”
The Daily Republic’s Ross Dolan contributed to this report.