CASTAIC — Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies were scouring the area around the Pitchess Detention Center Wednesday as they continued a search for three inmates who made an early-morning escape through a roof--the second jailbreak from the compound's maximum-security facility this year.
All three Van Nuys men--Marcelle Gonzales, 21, Julio Treto, 42, and Antonio Carbajal, 30--worked together in the jail's bakery and apparently took advantage of its easy entry to the roof and jail yard, said Deputy George Ducoulombier, a Sheriff's Department spokesman.
The inmates, who include a carjacker, a burglar and a thief, were discovered missing about 3:30 a.m., when Treto, who was scheduled to be in court later Wednesday, was absent from a lineup of prisoners waiting to be transported to the Van Nuys complex.
After punching a hole in the roof of the bakery storage area, the men apparently escaped by climbing onto the roof and, using tied-up bedsheets, rappelling down a wall and out into the grounds of the jail, deputies said. The escapees then fled through a hole in a surrounding fence, Ducoulombier said.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 27, 1995 Valley Edition Part A Page 3 Zones Desk 2 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Jail escape--A Sept. 21 story on three men who escaped from the Pitchess Detention Center, the county jail in Castaic, incorrectly identified the portion of the compound where the escape occurred. The three inmates escaped from the North County Correctional Facility. In April, 14 men escaped from another portion of the Pitchess compound known as the North Facility.
Sheriff Sherman Block, who was attending a conference, said Wednesday he had ordered a full-force search for the men. The bakery break marked at least the fifth escape from the sprawling Pitchess compound, which has four jails on a 2,800-acre site, said Ducoulombier, adding that he could not verify the time period in which those escapes occurred.
Wednesday's escape was also the second this year from the compound's North County correctional facility, its maximum-security jail housing violent criminals.
On April 30th, in the largest jailbreak in county history, fourteen prisoners escaped from Pitchess' North County facility. Two men, murderer Luis A. Galdamez and carjacker Walter R. Padilla, have yet to be captured.
During Wednesday's jailbreak, the North County facility was near its 3,500-prisoner capacity, Ducoulombier said. The extensive search included 200 deputies, eight canine units and helicopters. It continued well into the night. Deputies set up a command post near the jail and warned residents and passing motorists that the prisoners were on the loose.
Truckers traveling through the area were alerted by electronic freeway signs and by officials at weigh stations not to pick up hitchhikers.
But some parents in Castaic and nearby Newhall said they were not notified of the escape until later in the day.
Denise Hurd, a Castaic mother of five, said she would like to know when prisoners have escaped because she fears for the safety of her children.
"I would like to be informed and be able to lock the doors and give my kids a ride to school," Hurd said. "I can keep my sanity in knowing my child made it to school and made it back home alive."
Hurd said she was planning to attend a Castaic Town Council meeting tonight, where the latest jailbreak was expected to be a focus of the agenda.
Council President Greg Ferrier said he and other residents have complained for months about the current method of notification, which they say comes too late. Some, like Mike Zip, said they would be willing to contribute money for a siren, which would go off every time an escape occurs.
"There are a million kids in the neighborhood and with sirens, everyone would know," Zip said. "By the time it's in the news, they have been out for a few hours. We could lock the doors."
Sheriff's officials said they have debated the siren proposal and are researching the cost but have yet to make a decision.
"That's something that has to be voted on and go before the council and get approved," said Sgt. Carrie Stuart, a spokeswoman for the department. "Right now, there is no plan to do it."
Budget cuts and overcrowding have plagued Pitchess and other county jails for years but the situation has worsened with the prospect of still more inmates being incarcerated due to the state's "three strikes" law. Residents said they fear that hardened criminals retained in county jails because of overcrowded state prisons may show up in their back yards.
"Once they put killers in there, we had a right to be notified," Zip said. "They've got nothing to lose. If they killed once, they will again."
Though they did not downplay the escape, sheriff's officials said that dealing with with such a large inmate population will always pose problems.
"One of the things people forget is that we have thousands of prisoners in custody on a daily basis," said Sheriff's Sgt. Richard Dinsmoor. "They have all the time in the world to figure out how to get out of jail. Our security and the amount of people who actually escape is good, considering how many inmates we have to deal with."