Prisoner who escaped in Lockport in 2011 said he had nothing to lose
BY JON SEIDEL Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org January 12, 2013 1:24AM
Updated: February 14, 2013 6:16AM
Cesar Sanchez sat in the back of an Illinois Department of Corrections transport van as it rolled through the southwest suburb of Lockport in December 2011, and the prisoner already serving more than seven years for burglary decided he had nothing to lose.
He faced another lengthy prison sentence on gun charges. He wore no leg restraints and used a crutch that day because of a medical condition. And he managed to open the van’s passenger door simply by pushing on a metal rod normally attached to a missing door handle.
Finally, Sanchez said the two male correctional officers in the van weren’t paying attention as they drove him that afternoon from the Cook County courthouse in Bridgeview to the Stateville Correctional Center.
That’s what Sanchez said as he explained to investigators how he got away on Dec. 2, 2011, near 159th Street and Farrell Road, according to records IDOC recently released to the Chicago Sun-Times after months of resistance by the state agency.
They show an investigation by prison officials into the escape found the van door Sanchez opened wasn’t locked properly. And IDOC spokeswoman Stacey Solano said the two unidentified officers guarding him that day were disciplined appropriately along with a lieutenant, but she didn’t elaborate. One of the individuals remains an IDOC employee, she said.
The officers insisted the door was locked, and they originally reported Sanchez kicked it open. They said Sanchez was looking closely at the door before leaving Bridgeview around 1:20 p.m., and he had to be told to sit back. They also said it might have been tampered with.
The escape turned out to be Sanchez’s last fling with freedom, though. He died weeks later at the age of 37 while being housed at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago. But not before an investigator conducted an interview with him, summarized in the documents obtained by the Sun-Times.
Sanchez complained in the interview of kidney problems. The Cook County medical examiner’s office said he died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease. He wore an extra set of handcuffs the day of his escape, the officers said, to restrain him while he used the crutch.
His story comes to light in the wake of a daring prison break in December by two bank robbers, Joseph Jose Banks and Kenneth Conley, who officials said used bedsheets to scale down the walls of the same federal prison where Sanchez was housed when he died.
The Chicago area also saw last week the conviction of another federal prisoner, Robert Maday, for his 2009 escape from two Cook County investigators in Rolling Meadows.
The officers in the Sanchez case said they made a U-turn at Farrell Road when they realized Sanchez was missing, according to the reports. Then they notified Stateville officials, parked the van at a nearby bar where they saw Sanchez run and searched for their escaped prisoner in a wooded area nearby.
The manhunt would end later that night when police found Sanchez huddled in the tank of a portable toilet in Rockdale. Officials said he got there by jumping behind the wind deflector of a Berryman Transfer semi and riding it to a terminal near a Waste Management company depot.
IDOC staff has since been given new training for dealing with escapes, according to Solano.
“The department takes these incidents with extreme seriousness,” Solano said.
Prison officials fought, though, to keep hidden the records of their investigation into Sanchez’s escape. They argued the release of the documents would pose a security risk. The state Attorney General’s office disagreed, and IDOC released partially redacted copies.
They removed witness names and details of the disciplinary action taken against Sanchez for breaking free, and they deleted interviews with other inmates, claiming confidential sources could be compromised.
What was released shows the officers who transported Sanchez complained no one told them how — before Sanchez was last scheduled to leave the prison for a hospital visit on Nov. 15, 2011 — he was caught with a piece of metal in the collar of his jumpsuit.
Prison officials decided the metal piece couldn’t have been used as a weapon, and Sanchez said he hadn’t been planning an escape. His escape risk designation remained “moderate” — low-to-mid-range on IDOC’s scale.
When Sanchez finally did escape a little more than two weeks later, a prison official said she was told to drive the transport van back to Stateville. When she got in, she said she noticed the radio was too loud for transporting inmates.
And though Sanchez and the officers guarding him claimed he had a medical permit to be transported without leg restraints, the records show the permit was missing from the officers’ paperwork that day. Another official said he recalled seeing a 30-day medical permit for Sanchez and believed it hadn’t expired on the day of the getaway.
Still, Sanchez had his opportunity when the passenger door opened as the van traveled through Lockport that December. He said he let his body roll out of the moving van, fell to the ground and scratched his right arm, knees and chest.
He said he got up and ran away into a wooded area behind a strip mall. Meanwhile, the officers said they heard a car honking its horn.
That’s when they said they looked around. And they realized their prisoner was gone.