(KXAN) — The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is reviewing its inmate transportation procedures after a capital murder inmate escaped from a bus on May 12 and stayed out of reach of authorities for more than three weeks.
There will also be an independent investigation.
The search for Gonzalo Lopez ended when he was shot and killed after a shootout June 2 in Atascosa County, south of San Antonio. Law enforcement believe Lopez killed five people, a grandfather and his four grandsons, earlier that day at a home in Leon County while hiding out from authorities.
Lopez was serving a life sentence for capital murder.
The TDCJ said it has “temporarily suspended the transport of inmates” as the agency reviews its policies.
“If it becomes necessary to do a transport such as releasing or an emergency medical appointment, additional security measures will be implemented,” TDCJ release said.
Inmates in TDCJ custody are usually transported for at least a dozen different reasons:
- County Jail
- ISF Intake
- State and Federal Court
- Regional Releases
- Interstate Compact
- Handicap Transports
- Off-site Medical Offender Tracking
- Out-of-State Extraditions
- Emergency response or evacuations
TDCJ said it will still be transporting prisoners into its custody.
Lopez was being transported for a medical appointment from a school-bus style bus.
The U.S. Marshals said Lopez was with 15 other inmates and two guards from Gatesville to Huntsville when he was able to get free of his restraints near Leon County.
At the time of his escape, federal law enforcement said Lopez used “an object” to stab the bus driver, Officer Randy Smith, who is expected to survive. He was then able to “briefly” get ahold of Smith’s handgun, but was not able to free it from the holster, the U.S. Marshals said in a release. At some point, the guards and Lopez ended up outside of the bus.
The second guard, Officer Jimmie Brinegar shot the back tires of the bus before Lopez jumped back in and attempted to drive off, they said. He then drove roughly a mile before crashing and continuing on foot.
A spokesman for TDCJ told KWTX they believed Lopez was still near Centerville right after his escape.
The family of five killed at the home in Leon County arrived earlier on June 2. The home wasn’t a permanent home, the Chief of Staff for TDCJ Jason Clark said.
Clark said Lopez was hiding in wooded areas and had been inside the home to get water and change clothes. Authorities believe Lopez stole the guns used in the shootout from the property.
Law enforcement started to tail a Chevrolet Silverado that matched the description of a vehicle stolen from a home near Centerville where the family Lopez is suspected of killing was visiting.
Clark said law enforcement used spike strips on the pickup to disable it and Lopez crashed. He got out and started firing at responding law enforcement, but Clark said he didn’t hit anyone. Clark said Lopez had an AR-15 rifle and a pistol.
While many are still wondering how the situation escalated, TDCJ pledges to make the transport process more secure. According to the agency, there could have been three officers there during Lopez’s transport, instead of two.
“That will be part of us going backwards to determine how that escape happened,” TDCJ Chief of Staff, Jason Clark said. “And taking any precautions necessary in order to prevent that from happening in the future.”
There are prisoners in TDCJ custody, who may have court cases that could be delayed because of transports now being limited. It’s not clear how many are currently impacted by this.