Texas suspends prisoner transports after escape that leaves 5 dead

HOUSTON— The Texas prison system has temporarily stopped transporting inmates as it investigates how a convicted murderer escaped from a bus last month and then killed a man and his four grandsons.

“The agency is conducting an internal serious incident review and also intends to hire an outside firm to conduct an independent review to identify factors that may have led to (Gonzalo) Lopez’s escape,” the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said in a statement. statement on Monday. No timeline was given for how long the internal review would take.

The agency said if it needed to transport an inmate for an emergency medical appointment or for release, it would enjoy greater security.

Such additional safety measures were in place when a van carrying an inmate from a hospital to an East Texas jail collided with another vehicle early Tuesday on a highway north of Houston, according to the prison agency. Three guards were injured but were expected to survive. The inmate was in stable condition.

Every day, authorities move about 2,000 inmates for various reasons, said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. According to the agency’s Fiscal Year 2020 Statistical Report, the latest such report available, there were approximately 121,000 people in jails, state prisons and other facilities run by the Department of Justice. Criminal justice.

“We are reviewing our processes and determining how to reduce the need to move inmates,” Clark said in an email.

Lopez, who had killed on behalf of Mexican drug cartels, fled a prison bus on May 12 after breaking free from his restraints and a caged area of ​​the vehicle. Lopez stabbed and injured the bus driver before escaping to a wooded area near Centerville, between Dallas and Houston.

Authorities believe Lopez killed Mark Collins, 66, and his four grandsons, Waylon Collins, 18, on Thursday; Carson Collins, 16; Hudson Collins, 11; and Bryson Collins, 11. Waylon, Carson and Hudson were brothers and Bryson was their cousin. Investigators say Lopez stole an AR-15-style rifle and pistol from the family ranch near Centerville, as well as a truck he drove about 220 miles (350 kilometers) to Atascosa County , south of San Antonio, where officers fatally shot him. late Thursday.

Texas State Senator John Whitmire, who had called for a temporary halt to inmate transportation, welcomed the corrections agency’s policy change.

“As the investigation continues into exactly what happened with the recent escape and tragic murder of 5 members of the Collins family, we must act quickly to ensure that no other Texans are at risk of losing their lives. or being injured by an escaped inmate being transported on Texas roads,” said Whitmire, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, in a written statement.

The committee will likely hold a hearing this summer to review what happened and the prison system’s policies on transporting inmates, said Lara Wendler, a spokeswoman for Whitmire.

The state senator suggested that the Department of Criminal Justice should keep violent offenders in correctional units closer to medical facilities or should have medical teams tour the units.

Whitmire also called for extra security when transporting detainees, including having another vehicle with armed officers follow closely behind.

The funeral of Mark Collins and his grandsons, originally from the Houston suburb of Tomball, was scheduled for Saturday.

During a Sunday service at the family church in Houston, Glen Collins, brother of Mark Collins, said his faith was helping him through this difficult time.

“That’s where I find solace and solace. … There’s a purpose to that, no doubt. …I lost my best friend. He kept me alive. But there is a purpose,” Glen Collins said.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70

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