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Kansas pulls inmates from jail after escape; 2 still at large

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Kansas prison officials have removed all inmates housed at a county jail after four escaped, including a convicted murderer who remains at large.

Department of Corrections spokesman Jeremy Barclay said the 18 inmates who were being held at the Ottawa County Jail because of state prison overcrowding have been returned to a state facility in Ellsworth.

Barclay said the temporary decision was made after four inmates escaped Wednesday morning from the jail in Minneapolis, a town about 120 miles west of Topeka.

Two of those men -- including the murderer -- remained at large Thursday.

Kansas Highway Patrol spokesman Ben Gardner told KSHB-TV, an NBC News affiliate in Kansas City, that authorities were not sure where Santos Carrera-Morales and Eric James, both 22, might be headed after their escape.

Carrera-Morales was convicted of first-degree murder in connection with two killings in March 2007.

Two other inmates had escaped from the jail with them about 4:45 a.m. Wednesday, but one was apprehended quickly. The other, Drew Wade, 21, later surrendered to authorities at a Walmart in North Platte, Neb., KSHB-TV reported. Wade told North Platte police that he had phoned his father and that his father persuaded him to turn himself in.

"He walked into the local Walmart," said police Sgt. Gary Hovey, according to the Associated Press. "He approached the manager and asked him to call the police."

Armed with homemade knives
Authorities said that the escaped inmates stole at least two vehicles and it was not clear whether James and Carrera-Morales were traveling together. Authorities also said the two should be considered armed and dangerous, and North Platte police were warning that they could be in the area.

The inmates, armed with homemade knives, overpowered guards at the Kansas jail after complaining about a broken water line in the holding cell area, Ottawa County Sheriff Keith Coleman told The Salina Journal. Coleman said the inmates were able to open the cell doors and make their way outside. The guards suffered only minor injuries.

The four men were among 22 inmates who had been transferred in January from the Ellsworth Correctional Facility to help alleviate overcrowding -- a prickly issue in Kansas. The Ottawa County Jail passed an inspection before it was allowed to house prison inmates, Barclay said.

Carrera-Morales was 17 when he and two other people were convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of a teenager and a young man in Sedgwick County in March 2007. Police in Wichita, where Carrera-Morales has ties, said all were gang members.

James was convicted of aggravated robbery, burglary, kidnapping and criminal damage charges across three counties for crimes in February 2008, while Wade was convicted of robbery and aggravated battery, according to online prison records. Records also show the three had numerous disciplinary issues while behind bars.

Barclay said Wade, James and Carrera-Morales had medium-security status and were deemed candidates for being housed outside the prison. He said the status is based on an evaluation of the individual upon entering the prison system.

'Jailbreak is not on that list'
The escape led to the cancellation of classes Wednesday at schools in North Ottawa County and Minneapolis, followed by a lockdown part of Thursday morning.

Overcrowding in Kansas' prisons has been exacerbated in recent years by closures and budget cuts. As of Friday, 87 inmates were being housed in five county jails under contracts to help alleviate overcrowding, receiving an average of $40 a day per inmate, Barclay said.

Inmate counts earlier this year showed men's prisons are housing 8,635 inmates, 266 over capacity.

"We'd better get that done because, apparently, farming them out doesn't work," said Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Republican whose district includes the prison.

This story includes reporting by the Associated Press and msnbc.com's Sevil Omer.

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