06/17/2003

Florida Prison Guard Killed in Possible Escape Attempt

Officer Down: Darla Lathrem - [Punta Gorda, Florida]

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. (AP) - A female prison guard was attacked and killed at the Charlotte Correctional Institution in what might have been part of an escape attempt, a state prison spokesman said Thursday.
Darla Lathrem, 38, died Wednesday night at the prison, said Department of Corrections spokesman Sterling Ivey.

Lathrem, who had worked at the prison since last June, was supervising five inmates on a construction detail inside the facility when she was assaulted, Ivey said. At the same time of the attack, three other inmates tried to escape.

"We don't know for sure whether the attack and the escape attempt were related," Ivey said.

Dozens of police officers responded to the prison after reports of the attack and attempted jailbreak at about 10 p.m. They set up checkpoints and searched cars on nearby U.S. 41 and Interstate 75. Canine units were on the scene, and a Charlotte County Sheriff's Department helicopter searched the area with a floodlight.

About an hour later, after conducting a head count, corrections officers reported that all prisoners were accounted for and called off the search.

The facility remains in lockdown, Ivey said, and all prisoners are confined to their cells.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating Lathrem's death, the first guard fatality at the facility. The Department of Corrections is doing a parallel investigation into the prison's policies and procedures, Ivey said.

The Charlotte Correctional Institution houses more than 1,000 prisoners, and has more than 400 people on staff.

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Information from: Charlotte Sun Herald, http://www.sun-herald.com
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