Search continues for convicted child-killer Kyle Bell
10/15/1999 Associated Press Newswires
Copyright 1999. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
SANTA ROSA, N.M. (AP) - An intense manhunt was under way for convicted child-killer Kyle Bell, who escaped from an inmate-transport bus hours before guards even noticed he was missing.
The president of TransCor America Inc., the largest privately run prison transport company in the nation, acknowledged a preliminary investigation indicated "several procedural violations have occurred
involving security policies" on Thursday.
"We are embarrassed by this incident, and are reviewing all standing policies and procedures," John Zierdt Jr. said in a statement. TransCor transports 77,000 inmates a year.
Bell, 32, convicted in the murder of 11-year-old Jeanna North of Fargo, N.D., fled at 4 a.m. Wednesday from a bus that stopped for fuel at a Santa Rosa station adjacent to busy Interstate 40. He was not missed until the bus crossed into Arizona hours later.
At a news conference Thursday in Bismarck, N.D., Gov. Ed Schafer said TransCor has much to answer for. The Tennessee company has not provided adequate explanations for Bell's disappearance and guards' slowness in discovering it, Schafer said.
TransCor is a subsidiary of the Corrections Corporation of America, which owns or operates prisons in 26 states.
The four guards on the bus have been fired, according to KSTP-TV in
In December 1997, three prisoners escaped from a TransCor van at a Burger King restaurant in Owatonna, Minn. Two escapees were quickly apprehended, but the third, Homer Land, held an Owatonna
couple hostage for 15 hours.
A bloodhound brought to Santa Rosa Thursday to track Bell picked up his scent near the truck stop but lost it at the interstate, said state police Lt. Richard Newman.
Guards aboard the modified Greyhound bus did not realize Bell was missing until nine hours after the Santa Rosa stop, when they did a headcount after the bus arrived in St. Johns, Ariz., Newman said.
Authorities believe Bell picked the locks on his handcuffs and leg shackles early Wednesday morning and escaped through a ventilation hatch in the bus roof.
Santa Rosa's three schools were searched and a city officer was assigned Thursday to patrol the schools, said Dan Flores, the town's school superintendent.
"We also, for a time, considered not having school today, but we thought that the safest place for students would be at school rather than
home," Flores said.
A federal charge was filed against Bell in Fargo Thursday to give the Federal Bureau of Investigation increased authority to pursue and arrest the fugitive, said U.S. Attorney John Schneider.
Bell, who was being taken to Oregon City, Ore., from North Dakota, was sentenced in September to life in prison. Authorities said he molested the child and killed her when she threatened to tell her parents.
Schafer said he called Jeanna North's parents to inform them.
"They were emotional, upset, concerned, disappointed and lost faith in the system, and so have I," Schafer said.
John North, Jeanna North's father, said he was "dumbfounded" by the news. "We thought this was finally over, and now this," North said Thursday. "It opens up a lot of old wounds for us."
In a 1996 statement prosecutors were not allowed to use at trial, Bell told investigators he tied the girl's body to a cinderblock and dumped her from a bridge into the Sheyenne River northwest of Fargo.
At the time he was charged in her disappearance, Bell was serving a 40-year prison term for molesting two young girls.