Authorities in Texas were searching early Friday for a convicted murderer who, they said, had escaped from a correctional bus the day before after stabbing the driver in the hand and forcing the vehicle off a highway into a cow pasture.
Authorities deployed dogs and helicopters in the search for the inmate, Gonzalo Artemio Lopez, 46, who had been serving a life sentence for killing a man with a pickax.
“As you can see from his record, he is very dangerous,” Robert Hurst, a public information officer for the state’s Department of Criminal Justice, said in a phone interview Thursday night.
Multiple police agencies joined the search for the inmate at an intersection of two major highways in a rural area of Leon County near the city of Centerville, Texas, which sits halfway between Dallas to the north and Houston to the south. News footage of the manhunt showed police officers, some on horseback, searching farmland near the crash site, inspecting a fence and stopping vehicles.
Lopez escaped Thursday afternoon as the long white bus, which was transporting several prisoners, traveled east along state Highway 7. It was taking him from a prison in Gatesville, Texas, to a medical appointment in the city of Huntsville, Hurst said.
“Somehow — we don’t know how — he manages to get out of his restraints and then manages to get into the driver’s compartment of the bus,” which was separated from the passenger area by a door, Hurst said.
Lopez had an altercation with the driver, Randy Smith, stabbing him in the left hand with a weapon and forcing the bus off the highway, Hurst said, adding that the prisoner escaped as an officer on the bus, Tommie Brinegar, fired shots at him. He said authorities did not know what type of weapon Lopez had used to stab the driver.
The other 15 inmates on the bus were in restraints and did not leave the bus, Hurst said. The driver’s wound was not life-threatening, he said.
Lopez was convicted of capital murder for killing a man in Hidalgo County 17 years ago after kidnapping him and trying to extract a ransom from the victim’s wife, Hurst said.
His record includes eight other offenses in Texas, including attempted capital murder and aggravated assault, all but one in Hidalgo County, prisoner files show. Hurst said Lopez had been convicted of attempted capital murder for firing shots at a sheriff’s deputy in Webb County.
“The most notable thing is that he killed a guy with a pickax,” he said.
Lopez’s first parole review is in April 2045, the prisoner files show. His projected release date was not available.
The escape occurred about 1 mile west of Centerville and about two-thirds into the 160-mile journey from Gatesville to Huntsville. A section of the highway was later closed, and the Leon County Sheriff’s Office warned residents nearby to keep their doors and vehicles locked.
Hurst said that prisoner escapes were rare in Texas and that authorities planned to continue the search for Lopez within a roughly 10-square-mile area that is somewhat hilly and includes farmland, forests and creeks.
“We will not call off the search until we find him,” he said.