NICI escape earns men multiple felony charges

For two former NICI inmates, felony escape charges are the least of their worries in a growing list of crimes they are likely to face as a result of their January breakout.

Ridge S. Dains, 21, and Caleb J. Thomas, 20, are currently in the custody of the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office. The pair was arrested near Walla Walla two days after their escape, following a vehicle and then foot pursuit. As a result, the men each face charges in Washington State of possession of a stolen vehicle, possession of a stolen firearm, felon in possession of a firearm, and possession of an altered firearm.

“And we’re interested in filing and getting an arrest warrant on them for two counts of burglary and two counts of grand theft,” said Idaho County Prosecutor Kirk MacGregor, in addition to the escape charges Dains and Thomas currently face.

Idaho County charges are pending completion by Washington State of its cases against the men, which could be three to four months at the earliest, according to MacGregor. Although the pair could face federal charges regarding transporting a stolen vehicle across state lines, MacGregor said he will not be requesting those at this time.

Dains and Thomas were on retained jurisdiction riders at North Idaho Correctional Institution (NICI) at Cottonwood when on the night of Jan. 17-18 they are alleged to have escaped from the minimum security facility, stole firearms, clothes and a vehicle, and fled north. Near Walla Walla on Jan. 20 they were recognized – due to media reports – by a store clerk and subsequently apprehended.

NICI Warden Lynn Guyer explained the pair left sometime between 11:30 and midnight, exiting the unit 4 facility through a ground window, and exploiting a weak point in the wire at a drive-through gate at the back of the building used for deliveries.

“There was a spot with a single strand of razor wire,” he said, versus accordion wire found along most of NICI’s perimeter fences. That allowed for one of the inmates to climb up the fence and spread the wire apart to make a hole for the other to crawl through, after which the second inmate held it open for the first to exit.

Dains and Thomas then went out through the forest and behind the Monastery of St. Gertrude, according to Guyer, where they are alleged to have broken into a privately owned outbuilding in that area and took a loaded .45-caliber pistol with two clips. They are believed to have followed Twin House Road and the old railroad bed until they allegedly broke into a travel trailer on a Canyon Road property, slept until the afternoon, at which point they saw the owners drive off. Here they changed out of their prison clothes, and allegedly took an SKS rifle and stole a vehicle.

Guyer said Dains met with him the Thursday prior to the incident when he requested he be relinquished from the rider program: “He just wanted to do his time,” Guyer said, and he was set to be transferred out the following week. Three days earlier that Monday, Thomas had gotten into an altercation with another inmate, “and he figured because of that he was going to be relinquished,” Guyer said. Allegedly, Thomas approached Dains and the pair agreed to escape together.

As a result of this incident, several things have changed.

“We no longer keep offenders here who self-relinquish or we feel we’re going to relinquish,” Guyer said. “We immediately move them to Orofino [Idaho Correctional Institution-Orofino, a medium security facility] where there is more secure housing.” And the exit point for this escape was improved: the single razor wire strand replaced with accordion wire, along with steel plates welded at the base of the chain link fence.

Guyer said it has been more than five years since NICI had an escape, and so staff are undergoing a refresher in escape incident procedures, “just to get this back on our radar,” he said. Procedures will also be looked at, specifically in preserving the crime scene to provide for good evidence gathering to assist the Idaho Department of Correction’s fugitive recovery process. Communications also need to be improved — not with Idaho or Lewis county sheriff’s offices, Guyer said, that were notified about 15 minutes after the escape was discovered and verified by head count, but with IDOC in Boise that received word of the incident late in the process.

On the positive side regarding communications, Guyer said staff did a great job in notifying local residents in proximity to NICI within 30 minutes from when the escape was reported. And from that point, the extended community was notified by that hour. Social media was also of great help in this incident, he added, as the Walla Walla clerk who reported the pair had recognized them from a Facebook posting.

“Really there weren’t any major mistakes made by staff,” he continued, before or during the escape: “It was pretty much a lucky break.”

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