HOUSTON – The Texas prison system has temporarily halted inmate transportation as it investigates how a convicted murderer escaped from a bus last month and later killed a man and his four grandchildren.
“The agency is conducting an internal review of serious incidents and also intends to engage an outside firm to conduct an independent review to identify factors that may have led to (Gonzalo) Lopez’s escape,” the Texas Department of Justice said in a statement Monday. No timeline was given as to how long the internal review would take.
The agency said if it needs to transport an inmate to an emergency medical appointment or discharge, it will have more security.
Such extra safety measures were in place when a pickup truck transporting an inmate from a hospital to an east Texas jail collided with another vehicle on a freeway north of Houston early Tuesday, the prison authority said. Three guards were injured but were expected to survive. The detainee’s condition was stable.
Every day, authorities transfer about 2,000 inmates for various reasons, said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Justice. About 121,000 people were held in prisons, state prisons and other Justice Department facilities, according to the agency’s fiscal 2020 statistical report, the most recent report of its kind.
“We are reviewing our processes and determining how we can reduce the need to move inmates,” Clark said in an email.
Lopez, who killed on behalf of Mexican drug cartels, escaped from a prison bus on May 12th after free himself from his bonds and from a fenced area of the vehicle. Lopez had previously stabbed and injured the bus driver Escape in a wooded area near Centerville, which lies between Dallas and Houston.
Authorities believe Lopez killed 66-year-old Mark Collins and his four grandsons Waylon Collins, 18, on Thursday; Carson Collins, 16; HudsonCollins, 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 handgun from the family’s ranch near Centerville, as well as a truck he drove about 220 miles to Atascosa County, south of San Antonio, where he was Officers fatally shot him late Thursday.
Texas Senator John Whitmire, who had called for a temporary halt to inmate transportation, commended the Department of Corrections’ policy change.
“As the investigation continues into what exactly happened with the recent escape and tragic murder of 5 members of the Collins family, we must act quickly to ensure no other Texan is at risk of losing his or her life being injured by an escaped inmate being transported along the streets of Texas,” Whitmire, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said in a written statement.
The committee will likely hold a hearing sometime this summer to review what happened and the prison system’s policies related to inmate transportation, said Lara Wendler, a spokeswoman for Whitmire.
The state senator has suggested that the Justice Department should keep violent offenders in prison units closer to medical facilities, or medical teams should visit the units.
Whitmire also called for additional security during occupant transport, including another vehicle with armed officers following closely behind.
The funeral of Mark Collins and his grandchildren, who were from Tomball, a suburb of Houston, was scheduled for Saturday.
During a Sunday service at Family Church in Houston, Glen Collins, Mark Collins’ brother, said his faith is helping him through this difficult time.
“I find comfort and security here. … There is a purpose in that, no doubt. … I lost my best friend. He kept me sharp. But there is purpose,” Glen Collins said.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70
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https://www.local10.com/news/national/2022/06/07/texas-suspends-inmate-transports-after-escape-left-5-dead/ Texas suspends inmate transports after escape leaves 5 dead