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Tool for escape was -- key

Three inmates escape from Cypress Creek Detention Facility using a key given to them by a staff member. All are quickly caught.

By JORGE SANCHEZ and JIM ROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001


LECANTO -- When three inmates at Cypress Creek Detention Facility decided to escape Friday night, they didn't have to come up with an elaborate plan. One of them already had the key which unlocked an exterior door.

The trio bolted out the door, ran across an exercise yard and climbed the first of two security fences. Two were chased down in the area between the fences. The third inmate managed to scale the second fence and ran into the woods nearby. He was talked into surrendering by a waiter who was just leaving his shift at the Rusty Duck Restaurant.

The escape incident began when inmate Anthony Valazquez, 18, was given a key to the shower room by Cypress Creek staff members at about 6 p.m. Friday, according to a report filed by the Citrus County Sheriff's Office. Somehow, Valazquez knew the key was a master key which would also open the door leading to the exercise yard.

Valazquez waited until 10:15 p.m. to make his move. He used the key to unlock the door leading to the exercise yard and bolted toward the first of two security fences. He was joined by fellow inmate Darious L. White, 18, and an unidentified juvenile inmate.

Valazquez was prepared. He had a blanket to lay over the coils of razor wire and strands of barbed wire on top of the fences and was able to climb over both. He headed north, toward State Road 44, through a patch of woods.

Around 10:20 p.m., waiter Kevin McCurdy was getting off work. He went to the parking lot to fire up his Harley Davidson motorcycle so the engine could warm up.

"This guy comes out of the woods, with blue jail clothes on. He was bleeding from his arm and leg. He told me "Hey man, you've got to get me out of here, I just escaped from prison,' " McCurdy said.

McCurdy said he told the escapee that he wasn't going to help him.

"We started talking, some of the other employees came out, and then finally we told him: "You've got two options: run and possibly get killed or just give it up.' "

Just as a sheriff's cruiser pulled into a corner of the restaurant, McCurdy said Valazquez agreed to surrender.

"He just walked over with me to the cop car, put his hands on the hood on surrendered. There was no trouble."

Both McCurdy and White were charged with escape. They were booked into the adjacent Citrus County Jail, and bail was set at $15,000. The juvenile inmate was removed from Cypress Creek and taken to another facility.

Cypress Creek is a maximum security facility that Correctional Services Corp., a private company, runs on behalf of the Department of Juvenile Justice. Cypress Creek takes Level 10 offenders, those convicted of serious crimes. Valazquez told McCurdy he had already served about four years of a seven-year sentence. Information on the trio's prison sentences was unavailable.

An official with Cypress Creek said an investigation into the escape is under way.

Carolyn Floyd, regional director for the residential programs in northeast Florida, said she couldn't explain why Valazquez was given the key and still had it four hours later.

"That's totally against regulations. The staffer who gave him the keys has been removed from his job," Floyd said.

She said criminal charges against the staffer might be initiated after all the facts are presented to the state attorney's office.

The escape Friday night was another in the long series of problems at Cypress Creek.

Three other inmates escaped in October. Juvenile Justice concluded that poor supervision allowed the inmates to sneak into an office undetected and then shimmy through air vents.

They were captured quickly.

After that escape, Cypress Creek officials fired a shift supervisor and took several measures to increase security.

Friday's incident had neighbors on the alert.

William Bryant lives on Nutmeg Terrace, just off State Road 44 and east of County Road 491. He returned home about 10 p.m. Friday to find a Sheriff's Office patrol car zooming through his neighborhood.

He called 911. The operator told him about the escape.

"They were very forthcoming with information, and I appreciate that," Bryant said.

"I gathered my family into the living room. We got our ball bat from the closet and we basically sat in the living room in fear," he said. "We called our neighbors and told them what was going on and we waited. I felt like a prisoner in my own home."

A 911 operator called the Bryant home later to report deputies had caught who they thought was the last escapee. She called a second time to confirm authorities had gotten their man.

"The sheriff's department did a wonderful job," Bryant said. "I just wonder if the people who made it possible for this place to be here, if they slept good last night. How would they feel if they were in my shoes?"

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