Md. inmate overpowers officers, flees hospital

Prisoner shoots, carjacks his way out of custody

By Justin Fenton
The Baltimore Sun

LAUREL, Md. — Police are searching for a 45-year-old inmate who escaped from Laurel Regional Hospital about 9 a.m. today.

Police said the inmate, Kelvin Poke, was believed to have fled in a stolen 1993 navy blue Toyota Camry with Maryland license plate MVC 433. Poke is described as a black man, 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighing about 235 pounds. The hospital and some schools and businesses are on lockdown.

Poke, serving life plus 40 years at the Jessup Correctional Institution for kidnapping, carjacking and robbery at the Jessup Correctional Institution, was admitted to the hospital at 2 a.m. on Dec. 31 with chest pains, officials said. Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said Poke was from Prince George's County.

At 8:15 a.m., Prince George's County police were called about a shooting that had taken place at the hospital. Police were told that an inmate had been at the hospital for treatment and escaped custody, according to Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley. Maximum security inmates are typically escorted by two correctional officers.

Poke was on the fourth floor, and he overpowered and disarmed a Department of Corrections officer and took his handgun, Shipley said at a news conference this afternoon.

A second team of correctional officers were also was also at the hospital with a second inmate, and they responded, but Poke disarmed one of those guards as well, Shipley said.

Shipley said shots were fired in the room but that no one was struck. As Poke was escaping the hospital room, he confronted a security guard, took him down the stairs to the front lobby, and told the guard to get down on the floor. Poke then put one of the two guns down on the floor and left the hospital, Shipley said, and saw a man parked in front of the hospital's main entrance who was waiting to pick up an employee.

Poke fired into the vehicle and shot the man, then pulled the man out and got in the car, Shipley said. Poke left the area in the Camry. Piles of glass, presumably from a broken driver's side window, and a red and gray shoe and a cell phone were lying on the ground outside the hospital.

The man who was sitting in the car is 51 years old and was shot in the head but his injuries are not life-threatening, Shipley said.

James Graham, 54, of Waldorf, said his wife was being examined for heart troubles at Laurel Regional Hospital when a nurse approached between 8:15 a.m. and 8:20 a.m. and told them that the hospital was on lockdown. He said she told him that an inmate had removed his shackles and had a hostage on the fourth floor, then came down to the second floor.

"That was it, I don't know how he got out," Graham said later this morning.

An alert went out to some Howard County schools in the Laurel area this morning, warning them that an escapee is on the loose, and providing a description of the Camry that Poke is believed to be driving.

Anne Arundel County schools spokesman Bob Mosier said district officials have decided not to place any schools on lockdown.

"Our security folks are in contact with Anne Arundel County Police in the western district, and they don't see any need for that," Mosier said

The prisoner escape in Laurel does have some educators on edge, though. As a precaution, Brock Bridge Elementary School Principal Joan Briscoe has decided to keep students indoors for recess today, Mosier said. Brock Bridge is the Anne Arundel school closest to the county line.

In November, a prisoner escaped from the Laurel hospital after taking a state trooper's gun and firing shots. He was captured hours later following an intense search.

Today's escape comes nearly two years after a correctional officer was shot and killed by an inmate he was guarding at a hospital in Hagerstown. In that case, the inmate managed to get a hold of the correctional officer's weapon.

Copyright 2008 The Baltimore Sun
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