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Escape of Texas Inmate Who Went On To Murder 5 People Was Result Of Numerous Failures

Coryell County, TX – The escape of a Texas prison inmate who went on to murder a man and his four grandsons while on the run over the summer was the result of a multitude of security lapses and policy violations at the grossly understaffed Alfred Hughes Unit prison facility, an internal investigation has revealed.

Gonzalo Artemio Lopez, 46, was serving a life sentence on a 2005 capital murder conviction and a 2004 attempted capital murder conviction when he escaped from a prison transport bus in Leon County while on his way to a medical appointment in Huntsville on May 12, The Washington Post reported.

The alleged Mexican Mafia member busted out of his restraints, stabbed the bus driver in his chest and left hand, and got behind the wheel of the transport vehicle, The New York Times reported.

A second transport officer shot out the back tires of the vehicle, but Lopez was still able to make it about a mile down the road.

He ultimately crashed the bus in a cow pasture and took off on foot into the woods, resulting in a massive manhunt that stretched on for several weeks, The Washington Post reported.

Fifteen other inmates inside the bus did not escape and were all accounted for, according to the Associated Press.

The escaped killer’s trail went cold until June 2, when an adult and four children were found dead inside a home located on Highway 7 in Leon County.

They were later identified as 66-year-old Mark Collins and his four grandsons, 11-year-old Bryson Collins, 11-year-old Hudson Collins, 16-year-old Carson Collins, and 18-year-old Waylon Collins, FOX News reported.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) said investigators determined Lopez broke into the residence, which was believed to be the victims’ weekend home, and murdered them, WPVI reported.

They said they do not believe the victims and Lopez knew one another.

He then allegedly stole firearms and clothing and took off in the victims’ white 1999 Chevrolet Silverado.

The bodies of the five victims were found after a concerned relative called police to report they couldn’t reach the homeowner, WPVI reported.

Hours later and approximately 260 miles away from the murder scene, Atascosa County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) deputies spotted the stolen Chevrolet, according to The Washington Post.

Police set up spike strips on a street in Jourdanton during the ensuing pursuit, and successfully flattened all four tires on the pickup, WPVI reported.

That’s when deputies said Lopez pointed the barrel of a rifle out the window and opened fire on the them.

The deputies returned fire, killing Lopez in the shootout, WPVI reported.

No officers were injured during the encounter, Atascosa County Sheriff David Soward said during a press conference.

Investigators said Lopez was armed with a handgun and an AR-15 at the time of gun battle, WPVI reported.

The TDCJ conducted an internal review of the circumstances of Lopez’s escape and also hired an outside firm, CGL Companies, to conduct an independent review, according to FOX News.

Both of those investigations revealed that correctional officers had not properly strip-searched Lopez prior to the transport, nor did they check to make sure his handcuffs were secure and working properly.

Investigators arrived at those conclusions after determining that Lopez had a device resembling a handcuff key hidden in his mouth at one point, FOX News reported.

He also had two metal weapons – both of which were between eight and ten inches long – that he was able to use to cut through the van’s metal security door grate, investigators said.

The TDCJ said the correctional officers did not utilize the facility’s Body Orifice Security Scanner to check Lopez for any hidden metallic objects prior to the transport, FOX News reported.

The inmate’s leg restraints were loose due to having been placed on him improperly, and a device used to block Lopez’s access to his handcuff key hole was not properly placed on his cuffs, leaving the hole accessible, the TDCJ reported.

Investigators further discovered that two correctional officers lied about searching Lopez’s cell, claiming in the agency’s search log that they had checked his cell, even though they hadn’t, FOX News reported.

“The fact is that if one of these actions was followed in compliance with existing policy, it is likely that the escape could have been prevented,” CGL Companies said in its investigative report.

Investigators noted that Lopez tried to recruit the other inmates aboard his transport bus to join him in his escape, but that only one seemed interested in the proposition, FOX News reported.

That inmate ultimately backed out when he learned that Lopez wanted to kill the two transport officers so he could steal the vehicle, and that he planned to drive the stolen bus to Interstate 45 so he could hijack a car, kill the driver, and head over to San Antonio to hide out until the manhunt for him cooled down, according to the news outlet.

Both reports concluded Alfred Hughes Unit staff members “had become complacent, and circumvented security procedures in favor of hastily completing responsibilities in a cursory manner,” CGL Companies said.

“These breakdowns appear to have become routine and a matter of regular practice rather than isolated incidents,” the outside investigators added.

Nearly two dozen TDCJ staff members and supervisors have been brought up on disciplinary proceedings in the wake of Lopez’s escape, FOX News reported.

TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier said in a statement that the agency failed in its duty, FOX News reported.

“Public safety is the core mission of TDCJ, and as an agency, we failed to meet that mission,” Collier said. “The agency has worked diligently to hold ourselves accountable, identify the failures that led to the escape, and take steps to ensure it never happens again.”

TDCJ said it has beefed up its security measures since the deadly incident, to include installing video surveillance equipment on transport buses and requiring three officers for each transport.

CGL Companies said addressing staff shortages and transport bus configurations are also areas for improvement, FOX News reported.

A staggering 43 percent of the correctional officer positions at the Alfred Hughes Unit facility were vacant during the month prior to Lopez’s escape, CGL Companies noted.

Attorneys representing the Collins family said they have notified TDCJ that they plan to file a lawsuit against the agency due to the horrific murders, FOX News reported.

According to court records, Lopez’s prior convictions involved an incident in 2006 where he kidnapped a man over a drug debt and murdered him with a pickaxe, The Washington Post reported.

The attempted murder conviction stemmed from an incident in 2004 where he opened fire on a Webb County sheriff’s deputy.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin

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