“The public’s safety is the first duty and highest obligation for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice,” said Executive Director Bryan Collier in a written statement. “We have completed a review of the agency’s transportation protocols and will be taking the necessary steps to add additional security measures when moving inmates throughout the state on its roadways,” he added.
Changes announced by the TDCJ include requiring three officers on transport buses, enhanced search procedures of inmates, and video surveillance equipment on all transport vehicles.
Additionally, TDCJ will require high-risk inmates to be transported alone and will enhance medical capabilities at each unit to reduce the need to take inmates offsite for treatment.
The changes follow calls from state Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, who had pushed for reforms without the need for legislation.
Whitmire told The Texan that TDCJ transports as many as 2,000 inmates each day, with about half of those being for medical treatment.
According to officials, on May 12, 46-year-old inmate Gonzalo Lopez removed his leg and hand restraints and used a sharp object to cut his way out of a metal cage during a transport along with 16 other inmates from Gatesville to a medical facility in Galveston. Lopez, a known member of the Mexican Mafia gang who was serving multiple life sentences for capital murder and attempted capital murder, then stabbed the bus driver on the left hand and in the chest.
After Lopez and the driver exited the bus, a second guard approached them, but Lopez was able to reboard and drive away. The TDCJ chief of staff said the guards shot out the rear tire of the bus, but Lopez escaped into the woods on foot, leading to a three-week manhunt that included the Texas Rangers and U.S. Marshals.
On June 2, Lopez is alleged to have shot to death 66-year-old Mark Collins, 18-year-old Waylon Collins, 16-year-old Carson Collins, and 11-year-olds Hudson and Bryson Collins at a family property in Centerville before making a getaway in a 1999 Chevy Silverado truck belonging to the family.
Later that evening, officers spotted the missing truck in Atascosa County south of San Antonio. After police used spike strips to disable the truck, Lopez continued to drive while firing at pursuing officers before he crashed the vehicle and exited. Lopez was killed in an exchange of gunfire with pursuing officers.
A TDCJ spokesperson told The Texan that investigators have not been able to find the sharp object used by Lopez to aid in his escape and the bus has been impounded as the matter is still under investigation.
The results of the agency’s Serious Incident Review and Independent Security Review will be made public once completed.
Funeral services for the Collins family members murdered were held last weekend. All four children were students at Tomball Independent School District.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.