Second escapee from Fla. prisoner van captured in Tenn.

Second inmate was arrested at a hotel after resisting police

By Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. —  The second of two men who escaped from a prisoner transport van in Holmes County was captured about 6 p.m. Thursday in Paris, Tennessee.

A female acquaintance “afraid for her safety,” assisted the Paris Police Department in luring Michael Andrew Rotunno to a hotel, where the arrest was made, said Paris Police Chief Chuck Elizondo.

Captured inmates Michael Andrew Rotunno and Thomas Banks. (Holmes County Sheriff's Office Image)
Captured inmates Michael Andrew Rotunno and Thomas Banks. (Holmes County Sheriff's Office Image)

Rotunno did not go down without a fight, the chief said.

“He resisted. He ran. I think one of our dogs kind of got him,” Elizondo said.

Rotunno was driving a truck Elizondo believed had been stolen out of Texas. He is being held in the Hendry County, Tenn. Jail and faces charges in several states, including escape and grand theft auto charges in Holmes County.

The arrest concludes a saga that began early Monday morning shortly after a contracted prisoner transportation van left the Walton County Jail en route to the Leon County correctional facility.

Rotunno, 30, and James Thomas Banks, 31, used a spring from a prison van seat belt to free themselves from the handcuffs and shackles they were wearing to open a cage inside the van, said Holmes County Sheriff’s Office Capt. John Tate. They had hidden the spring in Rotunno’s cast.

The pair, who were both ultimately headed to a jail in Jackson, Minn., hung onto the back door of the van until it slowed to make a turn at the intersection of U.S. Highway 90 and County Road 10A, known locally as “Old 90.”

“The road makes almost a 90 degree turn there,” Tate said. “When the van slowed down, the prisoners jumped off.”

Banks and Rotunno stole a car near where they’d left the van and apparently headed west.

Banks was arrested Wednesday morning near Brandon, Miss., a city 359 miles nearly due south of where Rotunno was taken into custody the next evening.

As with Rotunno, a citizen played a role in the capture of Banks. A cab driver received a 5 a.m. call from a woman looking for a ride for her husband. The driver, finding the request suspicious, reported it to law enforcement.

The cabby drove slowly enough to allow officers to set up an ambush and arrest Banks, according to reports from Mississippi media.

Both men, who were career criminals, face numerous charges in several jurisdictions, as at least three vehicles appeared to have been stolen during the short-lived escape.

“There’s several states that are wanting him,” Elizondo said of Rotunno.

Copyright 2016 the Northwest Florida Daily News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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