VERSAILLES — Crews searched for a missing federal inmate Friday while authorities investigated how the convict removed his shackles and leapt from a van's back door that could be unlocked only from the outside.
"Although this situation is rare, these things happen even when every precaution is taken and all of the rules are followed," Grayson County Jailer Darwin Dennison said in a news release. "We have transported thousands of inmates each year for the past 15 years, and this is the first incident we have had."
Derek A. Capozzi, 37, was in Kentucky to testify as a defense witness in a federal trial involving Christopher Cramer, who was accused last year of assaulting another inmate at the McCreary federal prison in Pine Knot. Cramer, who was being held with Capozzi in the Grayson jail, was acquitted of an assault charge but convicted of possession of a prohibited object.
Police said Capozzi is "extremely dangerous." He has ties to a Massachusetts drug gang and was convicted by a federal jury in 2005 of helping to cover up the killing of a 19-year-old Massachusetts woman, according to the Boston Globe.
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When he escaped, Capozzi was being transported in a van from the Grayson County jail to Lexington's Blue Grass Airport so he could be flown to an out-of-state prison, police said.
Two deputies were riding in the front of the van, which carried 10 inmates, including Capozzi. The van was supposed to pick up another inmate at the Woodford County jail.
Capozzi was handcuffed and his legs were shackled, Versailles police spokesman Pat Melton said. Capozzi was able to remove the leg restraints before getting the back door of the van open as the van was turning onto the Ky. 33 exit off the Blue Grass Parkway, Melton said.
Grayson jail officials said the van unlocked from the outside, and the leg restraints were found inside the van. The handcuffs were not found in the immediate area, but police assumed Capozzi was able to remove them.
When asked whether Capozzi had a key to the restraints, Melton said that was being investigated by the U.S. Marshal Service. The marshal service could not be reached Friday for comment.
After Capozzi got out of the van, one deputy stayed with the remaining prisoners in the van while the other unsuccessfully pursued Capozzi on foot. The two deputies — Jerry Meredith and Scott Cates — have been placed on administrative leave with pay while authorities investigate the escape.
No wrongdoing is suspected, according to a news release from Dennison, the Grayson County jailer.
It is common for federal prisoners to be held temporarily in local jails. Of the Grayson County jail's 550 inmates, about 330 are federal inmates awaiting trial or involved in appeals.
Capozzi had been at the Grayson jail since April 1, Melton said. He previously was held at a federal prison in Pennsylvania.
Capozzi was serving a 23-year prison sentence for helping to hack the body of Aislin Silva of Medford, Mass., into pieces and burying them after a fellow mobster killed the young woman, according to the Globe. Silva was killed by a Mafia-connected gang of drug dealers and thieves known as the Decologero Crew. The gang feared that Silva might cooperate with authorities.
Capozzi also was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being convicted of attempted extortion and illegal firearms charges in 2003. He was scheduled to be released from prison in 2046, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons Web site.
Friday morning, police focused the search for Capozzi on an area known as Little Texas off Military Pike near the Woodford-Fayette county line, Melton said. Woodford County schools were in session but were locked down for the second day.
The search moved throughout Versailles as police received tips during the day. Elementary school buses were delayed about 20 minutes for afternoon dismissal because police were following leads near the schools, Woodford County Schools superintendant Scott Hawkins said.
Melton said several people reported seeing someone who fit Capozzi's description. Capozzi was wearing a white T-shirt and khaki pants when he escaped. A few reports came from the Eureka Drive area in Versailles.
A man said he saw someone who fit Capozzi's description jump out of his truck bed while he was parked at Woods Chiropractic in Versailles. The witness said the man was hiding under carpet in the truck.
"He's not from here," Melton said of Capozzi. "He doesn't have a clue where he's going."
Melton said police planned to investigate "every tip, every lead and every phone call."
Melton said residents who spot Capozzi should call police and not confront him.