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Prisoner escapes van in leg irons; caught in suburb

By Joel Hood
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — A prisoner who escaped from a transport van traveling to Mississippi was captured Sunday night in Richton Park, still wearing the leg irons he had on when he disappeared the previous night.

Walter Wilson, 25, fled the transport van on Interstate Highway 57 near Manhattan and Monee Roads in Monee about 10:43 p.m. Saturday, according to a news release from Illinois State Police.

On Sunday, a person saw him walking east on Sauk Trail toward Cicero Avenue about 9:20 p.m., State Police Sgt. Bill Fuentes said.

The person called police, who arrested Wilson a short time later. He was still wearing shackles on his legs, Fuentes said.

Wilson was arrested in Chicago, but he had not been charged with a crime in Illinois, said State Police Sgt. John Rattigan. Wilson was being taken to Mississippi to face charges for shooting in an occupied house, police said.

Wilson was being transported by North Atlantic Extradition Services, a Mississippi-based company that is among dozens of private firms shuttling tens of thousands of prisoners every year in the U.S., Rattigan said. A number of high-profile escapes from the custody of private extradition companies ignited a public debate over whom should be allowed to transport potentially dangerous prisoners.

In 1999, a convicted murderer and child molester arrested in North Dakota escaped from a prisoner transport bus in New Mexico and was free for more than a month before he was recaptured. That same year, a convicted murder from North Dakota and an armed robber from California escaped while being extradited to their home states.

A year earlier, two men convicted of murders escaped a transport van en route from Tennessee to Virginia while their armed guards stopped at a fast-food restaurant for breakfast.

These cases and others prompted lawmakers in 2000 to adopt stricter federal standards for private companies that haul prisoners.

The new standards included mandatory background checks, vehicle maintenance recommendations and guidelines for the ratio between staff and inmates.

Officials with Northern Atlantic Extradition Services did not return calls for comment Sunday. But the company’s Web site says that its transport guards are armed and that the firm meets all the guidelines established in the Interstate Transportation of Dangerous Criminals Act of 2000.

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