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Many residents unaware of prison escape

January 28, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Following a prison break at Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown, some area residents wondered why they didn't know that a convicted murderer was on the run.

Kandelario Garcia-Ramos, 23, scaled two fences between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 17. He was captured five days later when a clerk at Sheetz at U.S. 40 and Md. 66, east of Hagerstown, called 911 to report a suspicious man loitering in the store.

Four MCI-Hagerstown correctional officers have been suspended without pay for negligence in connection with the Jan. 17 escape.

Prison officials have said a siren was sounded to alert people in the surrounding area of the escape.

They said they are thinking of adding a notification process in which local residents receive phone calls. Two neighboring states use a similar system.

Kevin Damewood, who lives near MCI-Hagerstown, said he didn't hear a siren.

Damewood lives in the 8200 block of Barnes Road, behind the prison complex on Roxbury Road, south of Hagerstown. He said he found out about the escape from a neighbor who knew someone who worked at one of the prisons.

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Damewood said it is the prison warden's responsibility to contact Maryland State Police about the escape, and those two agencies should have contacted the public, through e-mail, the phone, something in their mailboxes or in person.

Robert Stotelmyer, a retired state trooper, lives within sight of the prison compound in the 9400 block of Garis Shop Road. He's lived there for more than 30 years, and he knew something had happened when he saw state police helicopters, cars and Division of Correction vans, Stotelmyer said.

State police that morning went door to door in his neighborhood notifying people about the escape, Stotelmyer said. He had been notified by noon that day, he said.

Stotelmyer didn't hear a siren, but he would have been asleep then and might have missed it, he said.

State police said they notified in person those who lived in the area that K9 units indicated the inmate had gone.

Melanie Brummel lives in the Westfields community, the entrance to which is about a half-mile from Roxbury Road.

She hadn't heard about the escape until a Herald-Mail reporter spoke with her Tuesday. Brummel, who has lived in the area about three years, didn't hear a siren or notice police or helicopters, she said.

Brummel said she would have wanted to know about the escape, and said local media outlets and police should alert residents.

One of Brummel's neighbors, Fesiha Bukhari, also hadn't heard about the prison escape until a reporter talked to her Tuesday.

Bukhari has four children of her own and cares for other children in her home, she said. She would have liked to have known about the escape and to have been told what precautions to take, she said.

She didn't think it was up to the Maryland State Police to notify everyone about the escape, Bukhari said. Local media outlets had the responsibility to notify the public, and she doesn't watch the local news, she said.

Jamie Taylor lives on West Wilson Boulevard in Hagerstown, but his wife was working the day of the escape at Prime Outlets off Sharpsburg Pike, near the prisons, he said.

Taylor didn't hear about the escape until Jan. 19, because he didn't read the newspaper or check local media Web sites over the weekend, he said.

About a year ago, he received a reverse 911 call about a missing child. He would have hoped people in the area received a similar call to notify them about the escape, Taylor said.

New notification considered



The Division of Correction is exploring notification practices used around the country, including using telecommunications systems to notify residents in an emergency, prison officials said in a news release Tuesday.

Outreach into the community is also planned, because "everyone may not understand what the siren is," spokesman Rick Binetti said Tuesday.

Binetti said the emergency siren went off the day of the escape, but he didn't know when or for how long.

Division of Correction Commissioner J. Michael Stouffer on Tuesday met with members of Washington County's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, suggested creating an alert system. Under his plan, if a prisoner escaped, everyone who signed up would be alerted by phone.

Other Maryland regions with prisons have alert systems in place, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Mark Vernarelli said Wednesday.

The Jessup region, where there are seven prisons, has eight sirens and a hot line phone number, where information such as the escapee's physical description can be recorded.

Residents can call the hot line for information if the siren goes off. Sirens are tested on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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