Crime

APRIL 18, 2010: Federal inmate escapee captured

VERSAILLES — After managing to elude a wide net cast by authorities for more than two days, a "spent" federal inmate escapee was found late afternoon Saturday lying on railroad tracks behind a Versailles stair factory.

Derek A. Capozzi, 37, was captured by Versailles police and U.S. Marshals at 5:45 p.m. Saturday, according to Craig Smith, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals.

The search ended peacefully at Central Kentucky Stair Co. Inc., 331 Kentucky Avenue, where authorities said during a news conference that Capozzi was found lying on railroad tracks behind the building.

Officer Pat Melton of the Versailles Police Department said the escapee was "spent." He was cold and hungry, and "any fight was run out of him over the last three days," Melton said.

Added Smith: "I heard him say he wanted to take a nap."

In the end, Capozzi was spotted by two men who said they left a relative's birthday party to go look for the fugitive near an area where he had been spotted earlier in the day by a restaurant's security camera.

"We heard he was in the Kentucky Avenue area — that he had been over around Dairy Queen," said Phillip Bryant, 36, who was with his brother-in-law, Alfred Marmolejo, when they spotted Capozzi. "We went to a wooded area, I had to take a leak and I saw his head pop up. He was about 20 feet away, and it freaked me out."

"I guess we surprised him ... we were ready to chase him but didn't have to," Marmolejo said.

Bryant, who runs Central Kentucky Stair Co., said he called 911 and police were there in minutes.

"We stayed right there. I kept my bat, and they got there pretty quick. He looked fatigued, kind of in shock, quiet.

Bryant said the area where Capozzi was found was "a thick, wooded place.

"The grass was matted down, like a deer had been there for a few days. There was toilet paper and food wrappers."

Bryant said he never thought about the possibility of Capozzi being armed, although after he was apprehended, "I heard him tell the cops he had a knife," Bryant said.

"My buddy brought a baseball bat but we didn't have to use it. Police brought him down and that was it," Bryant said.

Marmolejo, 37, who owns Marmolejo Quality Home Improvement, said he and Bryant had thought there was a $100,000 reward. There wasn't.

Melton said Capozzi was never struck by a bat. "He was not harmed in any way."

Still wearing his prison garb, Capozzi was "very dirty," said Smith.

Capozzi had been the subject of an intense manhunt — a search by land and air — since he escaped Thursday from a van transporting him from the Grayson County jail with 10 other inmates to Lexington's Blue Grass Airport. He was to be flown to an out-of-state prison.

He had been handcuffed and in shackles, but somehow was able to get the back door of the van open as it was turning onto the KY. 33 exit off the Blue Grass Parkway, authorities say.

On Saturday, authorities said they were confident Capozzi had remained in the area because they had set up perimeters and they thought he was trapped inside. They said he never made any calls or committed any crimes while he was on the lam.

"He was never given the opportunity to show his face," Smith said.

Smith said of the capture: "it was a model case of what we like to see happen."

Mike Klein, of the U.S. Marshals in Kentucky, thanked the various police agencies who assisted in the search and "the good people of Woodford and Versailles" for providing several tips.

Melton said the community was "thrilled" Capozzi was captured.

His escape had put residents on edge. Shortly after his escape, authorities cautioned the public that Capozzi was "extremely dangerous." They implored residents to lock their doors and schools were placed on lockdown two days straight while authorities combed the area for Capozzi using helicopters and dogs.

That's largely because Capozzi, who has been tied to the mafia, was convicted in 2005 in connection with the 1996 brutal murder of a 19-year-old woman near Boston.

Authorities said a group of gang members, including Capozzi, tried to kill her by overdosing her with pure heroin. When that didn't work, they strangled her and cut up her body.

Capozzi had managed to stay hidden for the bulk of Thursday, but, on Friday, investigators said several people reported seeing someone who fit Capozzi's description. 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.

Investigators said Saturday they began pulling surveillance footage from local businesses, which is typical procedure for an escape. They scored the first confirmed sighting of Capozzi at a local Dairy Queen and, on Saturday afternoon, the U.S. Marshals Service released an image of video surveillance that showed Capozzi walking in the parking lot at 1:59 p.m. Friday. The photo showed Capozzi still wearing prison-issued tan pants, white T-shirt and slip-on, dark-colored shoes.

U.S. Marshals picked up the surveillance tape Saturday morning, said Robin Curtis, one of the restaurant's managers.

"We didn't know he was on there," she said. "Nobody saw him."

Curtis said it appeared Capozzi was "wiggling our door out by the shed" behind the Dairy Queen.

"A lot of the employees were scared, and I made sure everyone went out in twos," she said.

That had been the last anyone had seen of Capozzi.

Melton said there had been a sighting off Kentucky Avenue that did not turn out to be true. But they later got the call from Central Kentucky Stair Co. Inc.

Capozzi was taken to the Fayette County jail after he was taken into custody. Investigators said he would be facing a federal charge for his escape.

It's still not clear how Capozzi escaped.

When investigators found him on Saturday he was not wearing any restraints. Smith said they're investigating to determine what happened to them.

Asked whether any extra measures would be taken to prevent future escapes, Smith said: "A prisoner can escape from any facility — they have even escaped from Alcatraz."

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