Officer fires at fleeing convict in Ark.

By Charlie Frago
Copyright 2007 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

An escaped prison inmate was captured Monday after trying to run over an Arkansas State Police investigator with a van in the parking lot of a southwest Little Rock McDonald's restaurant, prompting the injured officer to fire several shots at the fleeing convict, police said.

Mark Grover, 42, was apprehended unharmed minutes later in the parking lot of the Electric Cowboy, a nightclub at 9515 Interstate 30, a short distance from the McDonald's at 8820 Base Line Road where the confrontation took place about 2:15 p.m.

Grover, a residential burglar serving a 10-year sentence, had walked away from work at a southwest Little Rock boating supply wholesaler on Friday. He was the fifth work-release inmate to escape since July.

State police and prison investigators had been working tips all weekend that Grover, who had several friends in the area, had been seen around Base Line Road. Early Monday afternoon, state police received surveillance video from the Home Depot on Base Line showing Grover wearing a red hat and driving a white van.

A state police investigator was driving to the Home Depot when he saw Grover pass him and pull into the McDonald's parking lot, said state police Lt. Henry LaMar, commander of one of the agency's investigative units.

Following Grover into the parking lot, the investigator identified himself and asked Grover if he was the wanted runaway. Grover responded he was not.

"My agent said, `Yes, you are,' and proceeded to try to get him turned around and cuffed. That's when he backed his van in, pinning my agent against his car," LaMar said.

The investigator then fired several rounds at the fleeing van, hitting the vehicle but missing Grover, who witnesses said nearly broadsided a car westbound on Base Line as his speeding van jumped a curb into traffic. Shortly afterward, the chase ended in the parking lot of the Electric Cowboy.

The state police investigator, whom police declined to identify, was transported to Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock with a minor leg injury, LaMar said.

A criminal and internal investigation is under way to determine if the investigator was justified in shooting at Grover, LaMar said.

Prison officials planned to transport Grover late Monday to the Maximum Security Unit at Tucker, said Dina Tyler, prison spokesman. The Jefferson County prison already houses three previous work-release escapees: Tab Delancey, 41; Clifton Sanders, 25; and Kenneth Stumbaugh, 45, all van drivers for the workrelease program who escaped in their vehicles. Delancey and Sanders were caught in Ocala, Fla., a few weeks after escaping in July. Stumbaugh turned himself in to Missouri authorities after a week on the run.

Shortly after Stumbaugh's escape, prison Director Larry Norris ended the practice of allowing unsupervised inmates to ferry other work-release prisoners to and from work. Correctional officers now drive the state's 500 work-release inmates.

Still at large is another workrelease inmate, Joe H. Bell Jr., who walked away from a Fouke construction company Dec. 11. Bell escaped shortly after company officials notified officials at the Texarkana Regional Correction Center that they wanted to fire the 41-year-old man who was serving an eight-year sentence for manufacture, possession and delivery of a controlled substance.

Grover's capture came after numerous reports that friends in southwest Little Rock were helping the inmate, imprisoned since June 2003.

"We had information that he was staying with friends, just a few hours at a time, popping up in one place and the other," she said.

On Friday, Grover walked away from Southern Marine, 6600 Murray St., shortly after being dropped off by a Benton Unit correctional officer. Some department employees said Monday that the officer threatened to remove Grover from the work-release program and send him to a secure prison just before Grover exited the van.

"There might be some truth to that, there might be absolutely none. Inmates have told us that, but right now it's just chatter," Tyler said. She said the officer would likely be disciplined if the accusations proved true. "If you're going to lock someone up, then you lock them up right away," she said.

At the McDonald's parking lot about an hour after the shooting, Brandon Lovell, 21, and Brittney Cagle, 23, sat on a grassy area in the McDonald's parking lot watching crime scene investigators mark evidence with numbered tags.

The two had been checking on job applications at the restaurant and a nearby Wal-Mart when the shooting episode occurred.

"I'll definitely have a story to tell when I get home," Lovell said.

Grover's actions were extremely reckless, said Lovell and Cagle, and they counted themselves lucky to have escaped injury.

They said Grover should be behind bars.

"Aka `Idiot,'" said Cagle when told Grover's name by a reporter at the scene.

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