Jail escape raises alarm in Towson neighborhood

An inmate awaiting trial in kidnapping flees work detail during snowstorm

February 18, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Police continued to search yesterday for an inmate who escaped from a work detail at the Baltimore County Detention Center in the middle of the snowstorm in an apparent security lapse that alarmed some Towson neighbors.

Jose Pava Castillo, 23, who was awaiting trial on robbery, kidnapping and theft charges, vanished about 4 p.m. Sunday from the jail on Kenilworth Drive amid heavy snow. He was wearing a white prison uniform with the BCDC on the back.

"It's terrifying," said Deborah DiBona, who has lived across the street from the detention center since the summer of 2001.

"When we raised the issue if there was an inmate that escaped, we're always given the same line: If inmates escape they won't hang around, they'll head for [the Beltway]," she said. "They don't know that for sure. Inmates will try to find money, a cell phone, a safe place to stay. Why not take a hostage? Some of these guys are not nice guys. Guys are in there for nasty things like assault and rape."

Escapes have been a rarity there.

Karen Kruger, president of the Morningside Community Association of which DiBona is a member, could remember only one other about 20 years ago -- but this one comes at a time when such neighborhood groups have voiced opposition to an expansion under way that will double the size of the jail.

"I never have been alarmed," Kruger said. "If this is the second jail break in 20 years, it's not a high risk. Secondly, somebody who gets out is unlikely to hang around here."

Kruger was glad that she, as community representative, had been told of the escape Sunday night in a call from jail Administrator James O'Neill, and she promptly told the families in her association. "Most people reacted with calmness; they were glad to know," Kruger said.

But Corinne Becker wished she had been on the list of people O'Neill called. The president of the Riderwood Hills Community Association, she lives about a mile from the jail in the home where she was raised, and was outside shoveling about the time that Castillo was fleeing.

"There was a police officer driving up and down the street just looking at people," Becker said. "I thought, maybe he's just looking to see if everyone's OK in the snow. I laughed, and said maybe somebody escaped from the detention center."

She said she hoped the incident would prompt authorities to consider a neighborhood alert system.

Police said Castillo was in a small group of inmates helping to load food on a truck for delivery to the women's detention center about 4 p.m. Authorities did not notice he was missing until about 45 minutes later, when a head count was taken.

A lapse in security procedures seemed to be the cause of the escape, said County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina.

"They took a prisoner that should have been under heavy security and allowed him to be in a work detail, and a gate that should have been locked was not locked," Gardina said. "This is being reviewed, and the warden has been contacted."

Castillo, who had no fixed address, was arrested a month ago and charged with abducting a 20-year-old woman in her car at a Royal Farms store in the 4300 block of Washington Blvd. in Halethorpe and ordering her to drive. Police allege that Castillo forced the woman to withdraw more than $300 from nearby automated teller machines.

The victim returned to the convenience store and called police, who arrested Castillo at Tim's Motel in the 4400 block of Washington Blvd.

County police spokesman Bill Toohey described Castillo as Hispanic, 5 feet 9 and 140 pounds, with short black hair, brown eyes and a mustache. Toohey said the department was investigating any possible ties Castillo has in the area.

That he remained missing was a continuing concern for DiBona. "We were worried last night and locked all of our doors," she said. "We would probably be one of the first houses he'd go to. We've got glass block [windows] and other security measures like all new locks and deadbolts and a big huge dog."

She said that the jail looks like an office building, and that she is able to see all the shift changes and inmates being picked up and dropped off in vans. She wonders if they can see her as well.

"It's always an underlying current that we're in danger, that this is not a safe place to be," DiBona said. "It makes us feel like we're sitting ducks here."

Anyone with information is asked to call 410-307-2020.

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