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VENTURA COUNTY ROUNDUP | WEST COUNTY / OJAI

Officials Searching for Escaped Inmate

April 06, 1999|TINA DIRMANN

Authorities were searching the rugged canyons above Foothill Boulevard in Ojai for a California Youth Authority inmate who escaped Monday, officials said.

Larry Sanchez Jr., 18, was one of 17 inmates on a fire crew clearing brush from the Ojai canyons near California 150 when he disappeared Monday afternoon, said Cynthia Brown, spokeswoman for the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility.

A fire captain in charge of the group said Sanchez was present when a count was taken at 1:50 p.m., Brown said. By the next count at 2:20 p.m., Sanchez was gone.

About 25 employees of the California Youth Authority combed the area on Monday, assisted by a Sheriff's Department ground crew and helicopter.

Brown said Sanchez--an Orange County resident serving a term for first-degree burglary, use of a firearm, and possession of a firearm in school--is considered a "medium to high level" offender and could be dangerous.

The rugged Ojai canyon terrain, which is covered by the tall brush that the inmates were charged with clearing, has hampered search efforts, authorities said. But officials believed late Monday that Sanchez was still in the area, kneeling among the thick brush.

"They usually kneel down and wait in the brush until people leave," Brown said. "But we'll be up there as long as we suspect he's still in that area."

Brown said the last time an inmate walked away from a fire crew was last July. Authorities recaptured him in February. Overall, however, Brown said it is unusual for a crew member to escape.

"I would say it doesn't happen that frequently," Brown said. "We have about 80 in the camp at any given time. We had one escape this year, one last year, but it had been a couple of years before that."

Sanchez is described as Latino, 5 feet 10, with black hair and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing the fire crew uniform--a khaki shirt, blue jeans and black boots.

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