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Archive for Tuesday, January 23, 2001

Texas escapees arrested in Colorado

Four in custody, one commits suicide, two still at large

January 23, 2001

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— Acting on a tip, authorities Monday captured four of the seven convicts who broke out of a Texas prison nearly six weeks ago and allegedly gunned down a policeman on Christmas Eve.

A fifth inmate killed himself inside a motor home that had been surrounded by authorities in this foothills community about 50 miles southwest of Denver.

Law enforcement officials line the entrance to the Coachlight Motel
and R.V. Park near Woodland Park, Colo. Acting on a tip,
authorities Monday captured four of the seven convicts who broke
out of a Texas prison nearly six weeks ago and allegedly gunned
down a policeman on Christmas Eve. A fifth inmate killed himself at
the park.

Law enforcement officials line the entrance to the Coachlight Motel and R.V. Park near Woodland Park, Colo. Acting on a tip, authorities Monday captured four of the seven convicts who broke out of a Texas prison nearly six weeks ago and allegedly gunned down a policeman on Christmas Eve. A fifth inmate killed himself at the park.

The whereabouts of the two other inmates were unknown. Authorities said they may have been in Woodland Park as recently as Sunday and may have left to get more money.

"The story is by no means over," said Mark Mershon, the top FBI official in Colorado. "We have two suspects that are still on the loose."

The heavily armed inmates including murderers, rapists and armed robbers had puzzled and alarmed authorities by remaining together after bluffing their way out of prison Dec. 13. The slaying of the Dallas-area officer 11 days later only increased fears that the inmates might want to go out in a blaze of gunfire.

Among those arrested was George Rivas, 30, the suspected ringleader who was serving a life sentence for robbery and kidnapping. Investigators have portrayed Rivas as fearless and shrewd with a powerful hold on the others, but authorities said he expressed remorse as he admitted to the slaying of the policeman.

"He stated that he had a change of heart, change of life and he wanted this to end," said State Patrol Trooper Eric Zachareas, who was at the convenience store where Rivas and two others were arrested.

Rivas had dyed his hair blonde and another inmate had dyed his hair orange in an apparent attempt to avoid scrutiny, Zachareas said. He also said some of the fugitives may have been at a Colorado Springs bar late Saturday.

"Apparently, they were out partying," he said.

The convicts arrived in the area on Jan. 1, Teller County Sheriff Frank Fehn said. He offered no other details of their activities, nor how they covered the more than 800 miles from the prison in south Texas.

Authorities said a weekend tip prompted by the show "America's Most Wanted" led to the capture. The show had featured the convicts four times since the escape, including the last three Saturday nights.

Undersheriff Kevin Dougherty said authorities were told about the fugitives by the manager of the Coachlight, a combination motel and RV park where the motor home was located. The park, tucked away amid pine trees, was put under surveillance at 2 a.m. Monday, authorities said.

Rivas and two others were arrested not at the RV park but as they pulled up for gasoline at a convenience store near Woodland Park.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said Rivas was captured with inmates Michael Rodriguez and Joseph Garcia. Authorities said inmate Larry Harper killed himself inside the motor home sometime after another convict, Randy Halprin, walked outside.

Harper had wanted to speak to his father and authorities arranged for him to do so by cell phone, Fehn said. He was dead from a gunshot wound to the chest by the time the arrangements were made.

Authorities found 15 handguns inside the motor home and another gun in the Jeep, Zachareas said.

Still missing were Patrick Murphy Jr., convicted of rape, and Donald Newbury, imprisoned for armed robbery.

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