Pella Chronicle

December 11, 2012

Ottumwa fugitive back in custody

Car with open window, getaway driver and a change of clothes planted outside courthouse

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OSKALOOSA — An escaped prisoner and his accomplice are in custody following an intense search by police.

Wapello County Sheriff Mark Miller said Tuesday that he and other law enforcement arrested Curtis Bunnell, 38, at a home in Oskaloosa. Also arrested was his wife, Latisha Bunnell, 27, who authorities allege helped Curtis escape from the Wapello County Courthouse Monday. She is charged with aiding and abetting escape, a Class D felony. Curtis has been charged with escape, also a Class D felony. He’s already facing felony charges in other counties.

Both are being held at the Wapello County Jail.

That’s where Curtis was being held after he’d been arrested following a different manhunt last month.

Curtis allegedly got the attention of an Ottumwa landlord by expressing “interest” in renting. An investigator with the Ottumwa police said that was a trick so Curtis Bunnell could rob the man.

At the rental unit, he allegedly pulled out a gun, pointed it at the landlord and demanded money.

The landlord gave the man around $900 from his pocket, as well as a fake $1 million bill.

Police found the alleged robber, captured him and put him in jail on $25,000 bail. Unlike some bails, the suspect couldn’t just pay a portion of the bond and leave — he’d need $25,000 in cash in order to leave jail. That’s why he was in court Monday — last week, the public defender assigned to Bunnell’s case made a “motion for bond reduction.”  

Miller said Bunnell was led up to the courtroom in restraints by a correctional officer. There were a total of three prisoners in court at that time.  

Bunnell had his motion for bond reduction denied by the judge just after 10 a.m. The correctional officer escorted the cuffed prisoners back to the vehicle out front at around 10:45 a.m.

 

How he got away

The street is close enough to the sidewalk in front of the building, a visual inspection confirmed, that just falling down could result in near contact with a parallel parked car.

Miller said while being walked outside to the vehicle that would take him back to jail, Bunnell, still in restraints, shuffled a “step or two” extra then suddenly dove head first into the open window of a car that stopped — then took off.

“It was instantaneous,” Miller said.

Not far from the courthouse, authorities found one of the bright orange jumpsuits prisoners wear.

“We believe he had a change of clothes,” Miller said. “Otherwise, he’d be pretty obvious, even ... in a car.”

But from that point on, the escape plan appeared less thought out. For example, the Oskaloosa couple abandoned their car in Ottumwa off of North Court Street in a wooded area — behind the Department of Corrections probation and parole office.

“They may not have known the area too well,” Miller said.

The couple fled to Oskaloosa.

“We had [multiple police agencies] saturating the area,” said Miller.

With help from Oskaloosa police, Mahaska County Sheriff’s officers and the Iowa State Patrol, Miller and his deputies were able to narrow the search to one specific place, for which they obtained a search warrant.

“We found them at 613 Fifth Ave. West,” said Oskaloosa Police Chief John “Jake” McGee.  

Miller said that was not the couple’s home.

“He was hiding in the residence,” McGee said.

The police chief said that Bunnell has been in trouble with the law in Mahaska County, too.

“He does have a past history,” McGee said.

The chief said that Bunnell did not resist arrest.

“Sheriffs take this stuff pretty personal,” Miller added. “We want our people back.”

He said his initial investigation indicates that this was a planned escape. It’s also demonstrated one more thing those in charge of prisoner transport have to look out for, he said.

“Really, we run into risk every time we [leave] the jail with a prisoner. In this case, we’re glad there was no violence. No [citizens] were injured, no officers were hurt and the [escapee] was not hurt.”

— Duane Nollen of the Oskaloosa Herald contributed to this report.