HOUSTON — A newly released investigation revealed staffing issues could have aided in Gonzalo Lopez's escape from a prison bus earlier this year, according to the Houston Chronicle and The Marshall Project.
In May, Lopez escaped the bus and killed five family members at a home in Centerville, Texas.
What the report showed
- The prison where Lopez was held had a 45% staffing vacancy
- Guards skipped the required strip search and did not use metal detectors
- Prison policy required three officers to be on the bus but it was made optional in 2015 due to staffing shortages
- Witnesses said a Jewett police officer was first on the scene of the escape and didn't shoot or follow Lopez when the bus crashed
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said strip searches were performed on Lopez prior to his escape, however, they were not done in accordance with the policy.
State leaders said they weren't shocked to hear the findings of the report.
"I don’t think this was really anything we didn’t know. It was just a lack of oversight. A lack of funding. A lack of training for the staff. It was a perfect storm for everything failing all at once," Rep. Gene Wu said.
TDCJ said it is releasing its own report later this week.
How was Lopez able to escape
Lopez escaped custody by shedding his shackles and cutting through a metal barrier on a prison bus before stabbing a correctional officer. Video from a witness showed Lopez running through a wooded area.
Lopez was on the bus from Gatesville to Huntsville for a doctor's appointment.
Lopez was killed in a shootout with officers after investigators said he killed the Collins family in Centerville.
Pictures released by TDCJ show a similar prison bus and the metal wire below the driver’s seat, where a spokesman said Lopez was able to break through, crawl on his stomach and attack the driver.
"The other inmates were creating a distraction on the bus by singing, yelling, sitting up and down and clapping their hands," said Robert Hurst, a TDCJ spokesman.
Gonzalo Lopez escape timeline
- May 12 – Investigators say Lopez escaped his shackles, attacked a corrections officer and hijacked a prison bus in Leon County while being transported between prisons
- May 13 – The search turned into a massive manhunt with resources from around the state coming to the Centerville area
- May 18 – New photos were released of Lopez from before the hijacking They showed him cuffed while being led to the prison bus
- May 25 – More new pictures were released by U.S. Marshals, showing Lopez’s tattoos as they continued to ask for help
- June 2 – Authorities say Lopez killed a family of five, stole their truck and made his way to a rural area near San Antonio where he was killed in a shootout with police
Who was Gonzalo Lopez?
Lopez was serving back-to-back life sentences for shooting at a Webb County, Texas sheriff's deputy in 2004 and killing a man with a pickax in Hidalgo County after holding him ransom on a drug debt.
Lopez managed to hide from law enforcement for an extended period of time on other occasions. In 2004, he was able to run away from a police chase in South Texas and stayed hidden with the help of a cartel associate, he told investigators at the time.