Senator John Whitmire, chairman of the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said there should always be backup when transporting violent criminals so the community is not at risk.
“Here is the point that I am ready to declare. We should never allow a capital murderer serving a life sentence to travel across the state in a bus. If they are on a bus, there should be a trailing security officer armed to make certain that if something went wrong on the bus, the inmate does not escape,” Whitmire said.
On May 12, officials said Gonzalo Lopez was being taken from the Hughes Unit in Gatesville, Texas, to the Estelle Unit in Huntsville for a medical appointment when he escaped.
Lopez was serving two life sentences for capital murder and attempted capital murder during the escape.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which oversees the state’s prisons, said due to his criminal history and restrictive housing status, Lopez was being transported in a separate, caged area of the bus designed for high-risk inmates.
During the transport, Lopez reportedly got out of his restraints, cut through the expanded metal, and crawled out of the bottom of the cage.
That’s when law enforcement officials say he attacked the bus driver.
The officer reportedly stopped the bus and engaged in an altercation with Lopez. The two of them eventually exited the bus.
Officials said a second officer exited the bus’s rear door and tried to approach Lopez.
However, Lopez reportedly reentered the bus and began driving away.
The two officers fired shots at the inmate, which ultimately disabled the bus when a bullet struck a rear tire.
The bus then traveled a short distance and left the roadway before Lopez got out and ran into the woods off Highway 7 in Leon County, officials said.
During a three-week manhunt, officials believe Lopez broke into a ranch in Centerville, killed a grandfather and his four grandchildren, and stole firearms and a truck from their getaway home. Police spotted the truck on Thursday night in Atascosa County, where Lopez was killed during a shootout with police, according to officials.
According to TDCJ, two officers are required on a bus when transporting inmates.
Whitmire said he has been in contact with the director of TDCJ, receiving constant updates since the initial escape.
“Whoever placed those on the individual, there was a failure,” Whitmire said. “The procedures terribly failed the victims of this crime and the people of Texas. They are not supposed to ever get out of their handcuffs or shackles. Someone didn’t put them on properly. Was it a human error, or did someone intentionally allow the cuffs to be loose enough for this individual to escape? You would certainly hope not, but we have to check every possibility.”
Whitmire said while it is unfortunate it took something this tragic to correct. He said he will demand policy change to ensure a trailing vehicle behind buses with high-risk inmates being transported. If he is met with hesitation by TDCJ, Whitmire said he will introduce legislation in January.
“I don’t think we need to wait until January,” Whitmire said. “Starting Monday, they need to have someone trailing.”
Whitmire also believes it needs to be reviewed why inmates are taken to healthcare facilities across the state instead of a closer option.
ABC13 has reached out to TDCJ, who has previously told us there is an active investigation into the circumstances behind Lopez’s escape, and one of the officers on the bus is back to work, while the other is out on approved leave.
ORIGINAL REPORT: Authorities looking for escaped inmate who stole and crashed bus near Centerville
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