Merced Co authorities seeking escaped inmate

MERCED, Calif.

Authorities say Adrian Hicks got out after making a hole in the roof of the John LaTorraca Correctional Center.

More than 500 inmates are housed at the correctional center. Authorities say it was never meant to hold high risk offenders.

But the growing jail population has forced them to house more serious criminals here and some are finding ways to get out.

A head count at the facility early Wednesday morning found all inmates were present. But later, an officer spotted several blankets hanging over the barbed wire fence.

"We proceeded to do another head count and discovered Adrian Hicks was missing. Further investigation inside the dorm discovered he'd made a hole through the shower, got up on the roof, and made his escape that way," Deputy Tom MacKenzie of the Merced County Sheriff's Office said.

Merced police arrested Adrian Hicks December 13 for possession of stolen property, grand theft, and felony evading a peace officer. He was being held without bail. Deputy Tom MacKenzie says it appears someone else helped the 39 year old escape.

"We believe he may have had some help from the outside, and I can't go into the detail about that because it's still under investigation," MacKenzie said.

This is not the first escape from the facility in recent history. MacKenzie says at least six inmates have made their way outside the walls in the last two years, including Zachary Johnson. Authorities say he also snuck out through a hole in the ceiling of the shower area in February before he was caught the next day.

"We understand that's a weak point. We constantly take steps to correct that problem. And every time we correct that problem they find another way around it," MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie says the real problem is this facility now holds much more serious criminals than it was ever supposed to. He blames a combination of factors, including AB109, which requires many convicted felons to serve their time in county jail instead of state prison.

"It was never designed to house sentenced inmates. The whole purpose behind the John LaTorraca Correctional Facility was low to medium risk offenders, DUIs, people like that," MacKenzie said.

Authorities say they're still investigating exactly how Hicks cut that hole through the roof.

They also tell me he is a gang member and should be considered dangerous.

A county-wide "be on the lookout" has been sent to other law enforcement agencies in the area, and anyone who sees Hicks is urged to call the Merced County Sheriff's Office.

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