US

Prison Transport Firm Closing After Escape, Cites Insurance

By The Associated Press

DALLAS—A private prisoner transport company has announced its closure after an MMA fighter accused in two killings escaped this month from one of its vans while being escorted to a jail in Texas.

Texas Prisoner Transportation Services told Bell County officials in an email last week that it would “begin to wrap up its business affairs and cease operations” on Feb. 10.

“Unfortunately, new insurance rates have forced us to evaluate our business and conclude that we simply can’t continue to operate,” CEO Ryan Whitten wrote in an email sent two days after the escape of Cedric Marks prompted a multi-agency manhunt.

The email, which was provided to The Associated Press by Ammy James, an assistant auditor for the Bell County Auditor Office, makes no mention of Marks getting loose from a van that had stopped at a McDonald’s near Houston Feb. 3.

“We realize this decision will create a burden for your prisoner transport operations and as we transition you may continue to place orders with TPTS and we will transition you over to alternative transport companies to fulfill your transport needs,” Whitten wrote.

Police and the company have not commented on why the van stopped at the fast-food restaurant or how Marks escaped. Authorities have said the 44-year-old middleweight fighter was wearing leg, hand and belly restraints when he managed to flee.

No guards or other prisoners were injured in the escape, Conroe police Lt. Dorcy McGinnis said Monday.

MARK
Cedric Marks being captured after nine-hour manhunt that began when he escaped from a prisoner transport van in Conroe, Texas. on Feb. 3, 2019.(Conroe Police Department via AP)

The search for Marks narrowed after surveillance video showed him wearing his jail-issued orange jumpsuit near a business in Conroe, McGinnis said. He was found hiding in a trash can in a residential neighborhood less than a mile from the restaurant around 4:45 p.m. local time—about nine hours after he escaped.

He had freed an arm and a leg from his shackles, McGinnis said. She declined to say whether authorities believe Marks was able to partially free himself from the shackles or if he was improperly secured. Federal regulations require violent offenders to be shackled at the legs and have double-locked handcuffs.

A person who answered a phone number listed for Texas Prisoner Transportation Service said Monday that no one answered a call to the company’s main phone line, and an assistant to Whitten did not respond to a phone message seeking clarification on the status of the company’s operations. The private company says on its website that all its transportation specialists have a minimum of two years’ experience in law enforcement, corrections or the military, and that the company treats all detainees “as maximum security.”

The company, based in Thrall, Texas, has not answered questions about the escape.

Marks was arrested in Michigan last month on a burglary charge in Bell County, 70 miles north of Austin, and was being extradited there when he escaped. He was recaptured after about nine hours and was jailed in Bell County on a more than $1.75 million bond.

The same day he escaped, Marks was charged with capital murder in the killings of his ex-girlfriend, Jenna Scott, and her friend, Michael Swearingin. The pair had been missing from their Texas home for more than a week when their bodies were found in a shallow grave in Clearview, Oklahoma, on Jan. 15.

Jenna Scott requested a protective order against Marks last July, accusing him of choking her unconscious twice, Temple television station KCEN reported. The protective order request was denied.

Police in Bloomington, Minnesota, said Marks also remained a person of interest in the 2009 disappearance of April Pease, the mother of one of his children. The two were involved in a fierce custody dispute in Washington state and Pease, who had a drug problem, went to live in a Bloomington women’s shelter because she said she was afraid of Marks. She also said Marks had choked her unconscious more than once, according to a court custody investigator. Pease went missing in March 2009 and Marks won custody of their son.

Dottie Pease told KCEN last month that she had believed her daughter might have had a drug relapse, but that given the developments in Texas, it was possible that Marks had something to do with April Pease’s disappearance.

Marks has denied any role in their deaths and told TV station KPRC2 that he was not trying to escape the prison van. He didn’t explain how he got free.

By Jake Bleiberg and David Warren