Reports Out on Escaped Inmate Who Killed Man, 4 Grandsons

Officers violated procedures before escape of Texas inmate Gonzalo Lopez
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 9, 2022 8:46 AM CST
Reports: Numerous Lapses Led to Deadly Escape in Texas
People gather for a community vigil at Tomball High School for the five members of an area family who were killed by an escaped prisoner Friday, June 3, 2022 in Tomball, Texas.   (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP, File, File)

A multitude of security lapses such as inadequate strip searches, poorly applied restraints, a staffing shortage, and an environment where correctional officers became complacent created the conditions that led to the May escape of a Texas inmate, resulting in the deaths of five people, according to two reviews of the incident. Convicted murderer Gonzalo Lopez, 46, fled a prison bus on May 12 during an escape in which he was able to break free from his restraints and cut through a caged area of the vehicle. He remained free for three weeks. Authorities fatally shot Lopez on June 2 but not before he had killed 66-year-old Mark Collins and his four grandsons—Waylon Collins, 18; Carson Collins, 16; Hudson Collins, 11; and Bryson Collins, 11—on the family’s ranch near Centerville, between Dallas and Houston.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, or TDCJ, conducted an internal review of the escape and also hired outside firm CGL to do an independent review. Both reports released Thursday found correctional officers who worked at the Hughes Unit, where Lopez was housed, and who were with him on the bus had violated procedures by not properly strip searching him and not ensuring that his handcuffs were secured and free from being tampered with, the AP reports. If proper searches had been done, it’s likely they would have found what resembled a handcuff key that Lopez at one point hid in his mouth, as well as two 8-to-10-inch metal weapons that he used to cut through the metal grating of a security door, allowing him to overcome the driver, according to the reports.

In its internal review, TDCJ uncovered several errors. Correctional officers failed to use on Lopez a device known as the Body Orifice Security Scanner, or "BOSS chair," which is designed to quickly detect metallic contraband within the body cavities of inmates. Leg restraints were improperly placed on Lopez, leaving them loose. A device that's put between handcuffs to block inmates like Lopez from accessing the keyhole was apparently not placed correctly and didn’t cover the keyhole, possibly helping his escape. Additionally, two officers had falsified search logs indicating Lopez’s cell had been searched when it had not. Both reviews found staff at the Hughes Unit “had become complacent, and circumvented security procedures in favor of hastily completing responsibilities in a cursory manner."

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The conclusions by the two reviews are similar to many of the findings contained in an investigation published earlier this week by the Houston Chronicle and the Marshall Project. The joint investigation also found that the first police officer who arrived after the bus crash didn’t chase or try to shoot Lopez as he fled and despite finding signs that Lopez was hiding out in the Centerville area, authorities failed to warn residents. The TDCJ and CGL reports briefly mention the deaths of the Collins family but did not provide information on whether Centerville residents should have been warned when Lopez’s DNA was found inside a burglarized cabin on May 31. Collins and his four grandsons, who were killed June 2, died from gunshots, sharp force injuries, and stab wounds. (Read more on the victims here.)

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