Inmates Planned Escape For Years; Family Surprised One Inmate Surrendered
PHOENIX (AP) -- Two Arizona inmates who held a correctional officer hostage for 15 days in a prison watchtower were former cellmates who had been plotting their escape for three years, according to a family member who helped with negotiations.
But at one point in the tense negotiations to free the hostage, it appeared inmate Ricky Wassenaar wasn't planning to come out alive.
"He threatened to start sending out body parts," Renae Olszewski, Wassenaar's sister, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday from Michigan.
Wassenaar and fellow inmate Steven Coy eventually released their hostages -- a male correctional officer on Jan. 24, and the female guard on Sunday night -- and surrendered.
Olszewski was flown to Arizona the day after her older brother and Coy released the 21-year-old male correctional officer they had held captive for a week.
Olszewski said she and another brother and sister all tried to talk their brother out of killing the female officer.
The standoff began on Jan. 18, when Wassenaar and Coy were released from their separate cells for kitchen duty. They were armed with homemade knives.
Their plan, Wassenaar said, was to break out of the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis, about 50 miles from Phoenix.
Olszewski said Ricky was a cook, Steven a dishwasher. She said her brother told her they were trying to make it to Vermont, but she doesn't know why.
Wassenaar, 40, is serving 28 years for armed robbery and assault. Coy, 39, is serving a life sentence for a 1993 crime spree in Tucson that included armed robbery, aggravated assault and rape. They face more charges over the hostage-taking.
In exchange for releasing the two guards, Coy will be transferred to a prison in Maine, with Wassenaar going to a prison in Wisconsin.
Wassenaar's sister said the family was placed in a room at the prison where they were able to speak to him but not see him.
During the talks, the family never heard from Coy. But it was no surprise her brother was calling the shots, Olszewski said.
"He sounded normal at first, laughing and talking, in control like he likes to be," she said.
Then he became angry. He started saying goodbye, she said.
"I think Ricky was full of rage when no one would listen to him in that prison," said Connie Garvey, Wassenaar's mother, who waited home in Michigan for word from her children.
Meanwhile, family members made tapes and were coached on what to say by negotiators.
"We were told to use (the female guard's) name and talk about her like she was a person, not a disposable brown suit," Olszewski said.
She said they asked several questions about the female guard and whether she was being sexually abused. They never got a straight answer.
Garvey said that while her son was in trouble most of his life, there was a part of him that struggled to do the right thing.
"Ricky was always a good boy," Garvey said. "OK, well, now I'm lying. He had his idiosyncrasies about him."
His mother describes this moment:
"I remember when he was about 8 or 9. One day I walked into the back yard and there he sat with a big brick. He was pounding it to bits with a hammer.
"I asked him, 'Ricky, what are you doing that for?' He said, 'It's better than doing something I don't want to do.' He said he was thinking of thieving and getting into someone's house.
"I told him, 'You keep hitting that rock, and I'll get you some more."'
In 1997, Wassenaar tried being his own lawyer. Accused of robbing a Tucson adult video store and shooting at police as he fled, Wassenaar represented himself during his trial.
"I wouldn't doubt if he played his own attorney again. It would give him a reason to live," Olszewski said.
And while Wassenaar's sister said it's clear her brother grew cold in prison, she insists he does have a heart.
The evidence was the female guard: "He gave her back."