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Inmate flees jail in laundry truck

Sunday, February 12, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by ANNIE SWEENEY Crime Reporter

A Cook County Jail inmate escaped Friday morning by hopping aboard a laundry t ruck in the latest bold breach of security at the complex at 26th and California.

Warren Mathis, a 35-year-old armed-robbery suspect who has been at the jail since Aug. 29, remained at large late Friday after the morning escape.

Three jail guards -- including two who should have searched the truck when it left the jail complex -- are under investigation, jail officials said.

Mathis was assigned to a work crew in Division 11 on the east side of the complex in an open and busy area where trucks transporting people and supplies load and unload, said Bill Cunningham, a spokesman for Sheriff Michael Sheahan, who runs the jail.

Mathis was last seen working between 10 and 10:30 a.m., but by 11:30 a.m. he was missing, Cunningham said. He is believed to have jumped on a truck operated by the Chicago-based Lemon Scents company when it left the dock to take laundry to a wash facility.

Negligence likely, official says
The 18- to 20-foot-long box truck has a rolling back and is stocked with gurneys of dirty clothes. Mathis probably hid inside one, officials said. The gurneys should have been searched at an exit to the jail, Cunningham said.

Because the trucks are not locked, Mathis likely jumped off at a stoplight, Cunningham said.
The breach -- slightly more than a week after three inmates also housed in Division 11 were shot with a gun smuggled into the jail -- very likely was the result of negligence, a jail official said. It was not believed at this point that Mathis got any help from jail employees, the official said.
Sheahan has disciplined or demoted several guards in recent months in response to other security breaches.

Three jail workers were disciplined after bank robbery suspect Randy Rencher walked out of the jail wearing a guard's uniform in June. He allegedly got help from a guard and went on to rob a handful of banks, eluding po lice for four months.

Last week, Sheahan demoted both the superintendent and the chief of Division 11 after the gun smuggling and shooting that left three inmates with minor wounds. Sheahan also announced charges against two other people -- including a guard -- for allegedly smuggling other contraband into the jail.

Served 7 years in New Mexico
"We've obviously had a situation here where at least a handful of officers are not doing their jobs properly," Cunningham said. "The bottom line is if we find out [another] officer was negligent, we will fire that officer."

Mathis was released from a New Mexico state prison in October 2004 after serving seven years on 10 criminal charges that included embezzlement and armed robbery with a deadly weapon, a prison spokeswoman said. Mathis moved to Illinois, where he remained on parole and probation and was being monitored by the Illinois Department of Correct ions, a spokeswoman said.

In August 2005, Mathis was arrested for a series of armed robberies in the suburbs, including two at Baskin Robbins and one at a Radio Shack, according to court records. Mathis used a handgun in all three, and in one of the Baskin Robbins robberies, he allegedly jumped into a cab and held a gun to the head of the driver to escape, according to court records.

Mathis is described as 200 pounds, 6 feet 1 inch tall, with thinning brown hair and hazel eyes. He was last seen wearing a tan jail uniform, and his last address was in Forest Park.

Contributing: Lisa Donovan, Stefano Esposito

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