Escaped inmates sought refuge at distant homeless center. They picked the wrong place.

Escaped inmates sought refuge at distant homeless center. They picked the wrong place.

April 25, 2020 Off By enlivenlabs

A Wisconsin prison kitchen employee accused of being potential accomplice; more arrests expected.

Two felons who broke out of a maximum-security Wisconsin prison showed up at a center for the homeless more than 100 miles away in Illinois, where they were recognized and captured, authorities said Friday.

The founder of Miss Carly’s homeless services center in Rockford quickly identified the men, James Newman, 37, and Thomas Deering, 46, as the escapees and called police, official said.

“We’re just extremely happy that two extremely violent individuals were apprehended,” the Rockford police chief, Dan O’Shea told reporters.

Newman and Deering are prisoners at the Columbia Correctional Facility in Portage, Wisconsin, about 40 miles north of Madison. Miss Carly’s is about 105 miles south of the Wisconsin state prison, a straight shot down Interstate 90.

The pair were allegedly helped out of their lockup by kitchen employee Holly Marie Zimdahl, 46, of Pardeeville, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office said on Friday. She was arrested on suspicion of being a party to the crime of escape, officials said.

Newman and Deering got out of their prison at about 4:30 a.m. Thursday and eventually got a ride, meeting a driver outside a Piggly Wiggly in Poynette, about 14 miles away, a little before 6 a.m. on Thursday, authorities said.

The sheriff’s statement did not detail how Newman and Deering traveled 14 miles in 90 minutes, or if the kitchen employee is the suspected driver.

“Our focus is finding everyone that helped them escape from both inside and outside of the prison,” the sheriff said. “As the investigation continues, additional arrests are expected.”

The escape unraveled not long after they showed up at the Rockford homeless center at 8:30 a.m. Friday, police said.

“Two men showed up at our door shivering, frozen,” the center’s founder, Carly Rice, wrote in a statement on Facebook. “They had emergency blankets stuffed under their clothing. They looked just like the kind of people we want to help … but they weren’t.”

Rice told NBC News that when Newman and Deering asked for fresh clothes, she noticed they were both wearing thermal underwear tops and gray sweatpants — classic prison garb.

“I have a lengthy criminal record myself, so I’m familiar with the clothes,” Rice told NBC News.

The homeless advocate doesn’t have a television but recalled seeing a Wisconsin friend’s social media post on Thursday night about the escape.

So while a center volunteer served the men coffee and cigarettes to stall their departure, Rice excused herself to another room to call 911.

She said she also reached for a donated fur coat for herself, so that the long jacket could cover her hands while she waited for the police.