US Marshals: 2nd Prison Transport Escapee Arrested in Tennessee

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By: Julie Montanaro
April 8, 2016

Escaped inmate Michael Rotunno is now behind bars after four days on the run.

Rotunno was one of two men who jumped out of a moving prison van on the way to Tallahassee.

Rotunno and fellow inmate James Banks bailed out in either Walton or Holmes County. Banks was later caught in Mississippi, but Rotunno continued to run and crisscrossed seven states before it was over.

Michael Rotunno's run from the law lasted four days and covered more than 1200 miles.

It ended in the tiny town of Paris, Tennessee late Thursday night.

U.S Marshal Ed Spooner described his arrest. "He ditches a car, runs on foot. The officer responds, releases his canine, the canine makes contact with the individual and he's subdued and arrested."

U.S. Marshals have been helping local deputies and police track Rotunno since early Monday ... when deputies say somewhere between a stop at the Walton County Jail and a bathroom break at the Leon County Jail, Rotunno and fellow inmate James Banks escaped.

Authorities believe they stole a car in Ponce de Leon, Florida. Banks was caught in Mississippi two days later.

"I'm glad that one didn't harm anybody. We're going to do our best to locate the second one," authorities in Rankin County, Mississippi said Wednesday.

Yet marshals say Rotunno continued to steal cars - a Ford truck pulled from a lake in Longview, Texas, another car stolen and abandoned near the Texas - Louisiana state line and a fourth and final car stolen there. It was ultimately spotted and stopped in Tennessee.

"They've got nothing to lose," U.S. Marshal Ed Spooner said. "They weren't particularly violent, but they were certainly willing to do what they had to do escape stealing four or five cars. Luckily, no one got hurt, but they had nothing to lose."

We have reached out to the police chief in Paris, Tennessee to find out more about Rotunno's arrest last night.

We'll share more information with you as soon as we can.


By:WCTV Eyewitness News
April 8, 2016

PARIS, Tenn. -- Michael Rotunno is now behind bars after U.S. Marshals tracked him down in Paris, Tennessee.

According to US Marshals, Rotunno led authorities on a chase, then bailed out and rain before ultimately being cornered by a police K-9.

Authorities found his stolen truck in a Longview, Texas lake Thursday.

They say Rotunno then stole another car and abandoned it near the Texas-Louisiana state line. Another car was then stolen, and is what authorities spotted Thursday night.

The manhunt began on Monday when Rotunno and James Banks escaped a prison transport van on its way to Tallahassee.

Banks was arrested in Mississippi on Wednesday.


By: WCTV Eyewitness News
April 7, 2016

The U.S. Marshals report that escaped inmate Michael Rotunno was arrested Thursday evening in Tennessee.

We are told he was driving a stolen vehicle at the time.

Another escaped inmate, James Banks, was arrested Wednesday in Jackson, Mississippi.

The pair escaped from a prison transport van in Walton County on Monday.


By: WCTV Eyewitness News
April 7, 2016

LONGVIEW, Texas -- Longview (Texas) Police have confirmed that an inmate who escaped from a prisoner transport van in Walton County has been spotted in Texas, according to CBS 19.

Police say Michael Rotunno was see wearing gray shorts, a yellow hat and carrying a gray hoodie.

Rotunno had recently been arrested in Longview on a charge of evading arrest and was wanted for felony charges in Michigan.

Another escaped inmate, James Banks, was arrested Wednesday in Jackson, Mississippi.


By: WCTV Eyewitness News
April 6, 2016

RANKIN COUNTY, Miss. -- One of the two inmates who escaped a prisoner transport in Walton County is now in custody, according to WJTV in Jackson, Mississippi.

Rankin County (Mississippi) Sheriff Bryan Bailey confirmed that James Thomas Banks was arrested Wednesday morning on I-20.

Authorities say a cab driver called dispatchers about a suspicious call he received and that someone wanted to be picked up on the side of the road in Pelahatchie.

Deputies followed the cab driver and pulled the car over on I-20. Banks was arrested without incident, according to authorities.

The Rankin County sheriff said that Banks still had shackles on one of his legs.

According to WJTV, authorities now believe that another escapee from the same van, Michael Andrew Rotunno, has made it to Texas.

Multiple agencies are still searching for Rotunno.


By: Lanetra Bennett
April 5, 2016

James Thomas Banks, 28, and Michael Andrew Rotunno, 30, remain on the run, more than 36 hours after their escape.

Authorities say Banks and Rotunno escaped from a prison transport van as it traveled from Walton County early Monday morning. They weren't discovered missing until the van made a stop at the Leon County Jail for a bathroom break.

At around 9:30 Monday night, police there say they spotted the Honda Element that the men stole from Holmes County, and started chasing it.

The Honda crashed. Authorities say the driver bailed out and ran into the woods, while the passenger got into the driver's seat and drove away.

Police say a pickup truck was stolen from a home less than a mile from where the stolen Honda crashed. Authorities do not know which inmate took that vehicle.

This is not the first time for Banks. He was already charged with escaping from jail, plus unarmed robbery. Rotunno was charged with larceny in a building and delivering and manufacturing drugs.


By: WCTV Eyewitness News
April 5, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The Holmes County Sheriff's Office says that two missing inmates who escaped from a private prisoner transport van have been spotted in Mississippi.

Andrew Rotunno and Thomas Banks were both missing when the transport van arrived in Tallahassee early Monday morning.

Authorities say the men escaped from the van shortly after a stop at the Walton County Jail in Defuniak Springs before they stole a Honda Element in Ponce De Leon

Authorities say a Pearl (Mississippi) police officer stopped the stolen Element around 9:20 p.m. Monday in Rankin County, Mississippi. When the men tried to flee, the driver crashed the vehicle.

The driver then jumped out and ran, while the passenger jumped into the driver's seat and drove off.

Authorities say they are unsure who ran and who took off in the car, but it is believed that one of the inmates stole a truck from a residence less than a mile from where the crash occurred.

Authorities also believe that Banks and Rotunno are split at this point.

No further details are available at this time.


By: Julie Montanaro
April 5, 2016

We have reached out to U.S. Corrections to try to find out how the men managed to escape, but have not yet received a response to our list of questions.

According to its web site, the private company handles transport of prisoners in all 50 states.

The website also claims using the transport service can save law enforcement agencies 45 to 80%.

Earlier today we spoke with Alex Friedmann who studies privatization in corrections. He says private transport companies can save agencies money, but there can also be a downside.

"The main drawback is the lack of accountability," Friedmann said. "You want to have more direct control and supervision over law enforcement functions and when you contract that out - typically to the lowest bidder - then sometimes you get what you pay for."

Friedmann says there is limited data on incidents and accidents.

He says the only law regulating these private transport services was passed in 2000 after an 11 year old girl was killed by an escapee.

U.S. Corrections' web site says it is fully compliant with that law.


By: Lanetra Bennett
April 4, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's not clear yet how two inmates escaped or exactly where, but deputies throughout the panhandle are looking for two men and a stolen car.

Authorities say they believe the 28-year-old James Thomas Banks and 30-year-old Michael Andrew Rotunno stole a 2005 Honda Element in Ponce de Leon in Holmes County after escaping a prison transport van.

Authorities say the transport van stopped at the Walton County Jail to pick up and drop off inmates.

Traveling Interstate 10, it then later stopped in Bonifay at a gas station.

Banks and Rotunno were discovered missing when the van got to the Leon County Jail.

LT Grady Jordan with the Leon County Sheriff's Office said, "They were here for a bathroom break for the inmates that were on there. They were not scheduled to come here. This was merely a stop, an ad hoc stop on their way to their destination."

This was a private transport company, called U.S. Corrections. We have reached out to them to try to get more answers on how this happened. We have not heard back from them.

LT Jordan said LCSO processed the van while at the jail. "To try to locate any evidence that may be left in the van or on the van to help determine what actually occurred, how they were able to exit the van without knowledge of other people, the drivers, and officers that were involved."

Rotunno was being transported from Longview, Texas and Banks was coming from Orange County, California. Both were set to make their way to Jackson, Minnesota.

If you spot these men, authorities say do not approach them, call 911.


By:Julie Montanaro; WCTV Eyewitness News; Associated Press
April 4, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Authorities believe that two inmates missing from a Tallahassee-bound transport vehicle have stolen a car in Ponce De Leon.

The Leon County Sheriff's Office confirmed Monday morning that it is trying to help locate 30-year-old Michael Andrew Rotunno and 28-year-old James Thomas Banks.

According to LCSO Spokesman Grady Jordan, the private transport bus stopped at the Leon County Jail between 4 and 5 a.m. for a restroom break and that's when transport employees realized there were two inmates unaccounted for.

LCSO helped interview the rest of the inmates on board to try to determine what happened.

Inmates told authorities that Banks and Rotunno jumped out of the van when it was moving slowly, shortly after leaving the Walton County Jail in Defuniak Springs.

The transport van also stopped in Bonifay to get gas.

The Holmes County Sheriff's Office says that the inmates are believed to have stolen a silver 2005 Honda Element from Free Lane in Ponce De Leon.

Banks was last seen wearing a dark blue muscle shirt, blue jeans and tennis shoes. Rotunno was last wearing a light blue striped button down shirt, jeans and brown leather shoes. He has a scar on his left hand.

The U.S. Marshals provided WCTV with photos of the two inmates shortly before they boarded the transport van. A Marshals service spokesman says it is the transport company's policy to take a photo of each inmate before they board the transport.

Rotunno is charged with larceny in a building and delivering and manufacturing narcotics. Banks faces charges of unarmed robbery and escaping from jail.

The Holmes District School Board has been notified and additional resource officers have been posted at schools in the area.

WCTV will update this story as more information becomes available.



 
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