HEADLINE: Seven inmates escape from South Texas prison
DATELINE: KENEDY, Texas
BODY: Seven heavily armed inmates who raided a guard tower at a South Texas prison before their escape were sought Thursday by search teams using tracking dogs to scour area fields.
Armed with a cache of weapons and ammunition stolen from the tower, the inmates took two guards hostage at the back gate of the Connally Unit and tied them up before escaping Wednesday.
The prison is about two miles south of Kenedy, about 50 miles southeast of San Antonio.
About 200 correctional officers - some with tracking dogs, some on horseback - searched nearby fields for the seven inmates, including two San Antonio-area convicted murderers believed to be armed with 14 .357 Magnum pistols with 238 rounds of ammunition.
"The search isn't going too well yet," Maj. William Daniels said early Thursday. "We're searching through hundreds of acres. The officers have been out there all night."
He said the search was earlier assisted by helicopters from the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Larry Todd, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the inmates took 11 employees and three other inmates at the prison hostage in the maintenance shop. Two employees were hospitalized in Beeville late Wednesday with head injuries that were not life-threatening.
The inmates, who had worked as trusties in the shop inside the prison, made their getaway in a stolen pickup about 2 p.m Wednesday. The white pickup was found at a Wal-Mart near Kenedy later in the day.
"We think this is a well-planned and well-executed escape that may have been under consideration by some of the inmates for several weeks," Todd said.
The agency identified the escaped convicts as Joseph Garcia, Michael Rodriguez, Randy Halprin, Donald Newbury, Larry Harper, George Rivas and Patrick Murphy Jr. Garcia, 29, was serving 50 years for murder in the San Antonio area and Rodriguez, 38, was serving a life sentence for capital murder, also out of Bexar County.
The other employees working in the maintenance shop with the inmates suffered minor injuries and were treated and released. They were questioned by internal affairs officers to develop leads in the search.
The inmates, dressed in civilian clothing stolen from the workers, were able to surprise the guards near the back gate.
Todd said there had been no reports of stolen vehicles or sightings of the men.
"We're still checking for not only all of our vehicles at the unit, but employee vehicles," Todd said. The inmates mixed other vehicle keys in a pile to hamper efforts to follow them, Todd said.
The Connally Unit has been locked down as Karnes County deputies, Department of Public Safety troopers and prison system officers converged on the area.
Todd said five tracking teams were checking the fields near the store. Texas Rangers were manning roadblocks in and out of Karnes City.
All of the escapees were convicted of violent offenses but had clean enough records behind bars to earn trusty status in the maintenance shop, Todd said. Information released about the other escapees included:
-Rivas, 30, was serving 99 years for aggravated kidnapping and burglary out of El Paso County.
-Newbury, 38, was serving 99 years for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon out of Travis County.
-Halprin, 23, was serving 30 years for child abuse out of Tarrant County.
-Harper, 37, was serving 50 years for aggravated sexual assault out of El Paso County.
-Murphy, 39, was serving 50 years for aggravated sexual assault with a deadly weapon and burglary out of Dallas County.
The escape marks the fourth time this year inmates have risen up at the unit:
In late April, eight prisoners assaulted three officers, inflicting minor injuries. Then on June 7, an inmate severely beat corrections officer Irene Fonseca as she searched a cell. Though no weapon was used, a subsequent search turned up a homemade knife.
Less than a week later, corrections officer Scott Jendrzey was stabbed six times by an inmate carrying a nine-inch metal rod that had been sharpened to a point. The injuries were considered minor, prison officials said.