Sheriff: Sleeping guard allowed escapeSearch continues for man who escaped on Saturday.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
SPENCER — The inmate who escaped from a private prisoner transfer company’s van didn’t exactly plan and commit an ingenious escape.
“He got up, opened the door and walked off,” said McCook County Sheriff Mark Norris.
No one stopped him, Norris said, since the driver had stepped off the van to get a bottle of water and the guard had fallen asleep.
Oscar Antonio Herrera-Menjivar escaped from the van operated by Inmate Services Corp., a West Memphis, Ark., firm, about 2 a.m. Saturday. The van had stopped at the Fuel Mart, off exit 353 along Interstate 90 near Spencer in McCook County, when Herrera-Menjivar walked off and reportedly fled to the south-southeast.
The other 12 prisoners on the van could have gotten off as well, Norris said, since the guard was snoozing soundly. But they stayed on board.
“I don’t know why,” Norris said. “They were smarter than that. Maybe they knew it was going to get hot.”
The escape was so easy and relaxed for Herrera-Menjivar, Norris said, that he even had time to grab the bag containing his personal clothing on his way out of the van.
Inmate Services Corp. did not return a call seeking comment.
According to the company’s website, it uses Ford E350 vans to transport prisoners and has two “uniformed, fully trained professional agents” in charge of the inmates. The prisoners are dressed in orange jumpsuits and have “proper restraints” on them, the website states. The company’s guards are not allowed to be armed, but they carry chemical spray.
Sheriff Norris said all 13 prisoners on the van that stopped at the convenience store were wearing leg shackles and chains, including Herrera-Menjivar, according to the driver and the guard.
But when he was spotted by at least two people this week, he was free of all shackles, Norris said. Herrera-Menjivar was barefoot, but Norris said he didn’t know if those two facts are related — if, perhaps, the prisoner somehow forced his shackles over his bare feet.
Turner County Sheriff Byron Nogelmeier said the people who saw and spoke with Herrera-Menjivar said he had something wrapped around his feet.
“He complained about his feet. They were, I will use the word ‘abused,’ ” he said. “They were hurting.”
Nogelmeier said he thinks the escaped prisoner will be captured soon.
“This guy can’t stay on the ground,” he said Thursday. “He’s got to come up for air. When he shows himself, and somebody sees him, they have to call right away and the proper agency will respond.”
He said the escaped prisoner must be miserable in these sweltering conditions. The high temperature Thursday in the Spencer area was 101.
“You know, he’s got to be hurting,” Nogelmeier said. “Heat is heat. I don’t care if he is Mexican. You can only endure it so long without proper hydration and food.”
So far, a woman reportedly gave Herrera-Menjivar food and water earlier in the week, Nogelmeier said he was told, and a man near the tiny town of Dolton gave him water around 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Both good Samaritans said they didn’t feel in danger while talking with Herrera-Menjivar, according to Nogelmeier.
“The conversation was nonthreatening,” he said.
Nogelmeier urged people to stay alert and be safe.
A woman from the Hurley area called him and asked if she should lock her door at night, he said. She told him she never does.
“Absolutely, you should lock them every night,” he said he told her.
Nogelmeier said Herrera-Menjivar may be eating vegetables he has taken from a garden or may have found some other way to sustain himself. He could be spending the day in sheds or other buildings to keep out of sight and cool in the heat.
“That would be a concern. He may be,” Nogelmeier said. “I’m just trying to think out of the box. I’d travel at night when it’s cool.”
He said people are asked to keep an eye on trees and outbuildings to see if there is any sign of the escapee.
After the sighting in rural Turner County on Wednesday morning, as many as 70 law enforcement personnel were involved in the search, Nogelmeier said. That lessened on Thursday, he said, but there were still numerous officers looking for the escapee.
All that time and manpower is costing agencies a lot of money, Nogelmeier and Norris said.
Both plan to bill Inmate Services Corp. for their expenses.
Nogelmeier said his department’s costs are climbing near $5,000 and he is compiling them.
“They’re a private company doing this kind of job for hire,” he said. “I suppose they have some kind of insurance. They lost part of their load and it’s costing some money to put him away or find him.”
“Why should the taxpayers of Turner County have to pay for their negligence, if there was negligence?”
He said the Red Cross should also be reimbursed for the water and other items it supplied to the searchers.
Norris said his office bills towns $32.50 per hour for a deputy in a vehicle. That is the rate he will charge Inmate Services Corp., and so far that bill is $2,000 and rising.
In addition to officers from Turner and McCook counties, the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Marshals Service, the South Dakota Highway Patrol, Hutchinson and Minnehaha counties and the Sioux Falls Police Department sent staffers, vehicles and dogs to try to find the escapee.
The man who spoke with Herrera-Menjivar on Wednesday said he 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.
Herrera-Menjivar, 31, 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.