Search for escaped Texas inmate enters ‘expanded phase’

After nine days of searching in an area of Texas where a convicted killer escaped, the manhunt is entering in an “expanded phase” after the inmate was not found, state officials said Friday.

The search for 46-year-old Gonzalo Lopez, who attacked a prison bus driver to escape on May 12, will now look statewide, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Robert Hurst said.

“We did everything we could by ground or air to find any trace of him,” Hurst said. “After nine days, there was nothing that came up conclusive to say he was still in the area.”

The manhunt had centered on a perimeter in a rural part of Leon County west of Centerville where the escape occurred, and manpower there will be scaled back, Hurst said.

Escaped inmate Gonzalo Lopez, 46, assaulted a correctional officer on a transport bus and then fled from the vehicle, authorities say. (Texas Department of Criminal Justice)Escaped inmate Gonzalo Lopez, 46, assaulted a correctional officer on a transport bus and then fled from the vehicle, authorities say. (Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

Escaped inmate Gonzalo Lopez, 46, assaulted a correctional officer on a transport bus and then fled from the vehicle, authorities say. (Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

Some personnel will remain in Leon County but there will be “strategic searches of areas outside the original secured perimeter,” the department, also known as the TDCJ, said.

Lopez, who is serving life in prison on convictions of capital murder and attempted capital murder, got free of his prison restraints and cut through a metal barrier to attack a prison bus driver and escape on foot west of Centerville, the TDCJ has said.

More than 300 officers, on horseback and on foot and with police dogs and helicopters, had searched the rural area of farms and ranches that is about halfway between Dallas and Houston, officials have said.

Lopez, who has a history with gangs in the U.S. and Mexico, was convicted of kidnapping a man in 2005 and then killing him with a pickaxe when a ransom was not paid, officials said.

In the attempted murder case, Lopez was in a car when the driver shot at a pursuing Webb County sheriff’s deputy during a pursuit in 2004, according to court documents. Lopez got away on foot and later said he had been moved to Mexico by the Mexican Mafia for a time, according to the documents.

Texas Inspector General Cris Love said that anyone helping Lopez not only faces prosecution but is putting their lives at risk.

“Lopez has a complete disregard for human life and will do what it takes to avoid capture,” Love said in a statement.

A $50,000 reward for information leading to his capture is being offered, and officials have stressed that anyone who sees him should contact police and not approach him.

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