09/20/2006

6 inmates, including ex-officer, escape from federal detention center in Texas

The Associated Press

LA VILLA, Texas- A former police officer jailed on drug charges and five illegal immigrants escaped from a federal detention center near the Mexican border, sparking a manhunt and forcing schools to close, officials said Wednesday.

The six inmates, including a former McAllen police officer, Francisco Meza-Rojas, overpowered a guard late Tuesday and cut through at least four fences to escape the privately run facility, officials said.

"We're considering all six individuals very dangerous and armed," Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino said.

More than 60 local and federal law-enforcement officers using helicopters and bloodhounds were searching near the East Hidalgo Detention Center about 20 miles north of Mexico near Texas' southern tip.

Officers were searching door to door in La Villa, asking residents to stay home with their doors locked. La Villa schools were closed for the day, and a highway near the detention center was shut down.

Trevino said he didn't know whether the guard who was overpowered suffered any injuries.

Trevino said Meza-Rojas, 41, was being held on federal drug charges related to a trafficking operation. In April, Meza-Rojas and four of his brothers were indicted on charges that they were smuggling, transporting and storing cocaine and marijuana.

The five other inmates who escaped were illegal Mexican immigrants jailed on a variety of charges, Trevino told Harlingen television station KGBT.

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