14 Inmates Escape Yakima County Jail, Reportedly Over Coronavirus Concerns

Motorists captured video of Yakima County Jail escaping over a fence on Monday, March 23. CREDIT: Briseida & Alex Gonzalez / screengrab video / KAPP-KVEW
Motorists captured video of Yakima County Jail escaping over a fence on Monday, March 23. CREDIT: Briseida & Alex Gonzalez / screengrab video / KAPP-KVEW

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Fourteen inmates escaped from the Yakima County Jail Monday night, reportedly because of fears of the coronavirus pandemic. As of Tuesday afternoon, eight have been captured and six are still at large.

According to the county Department of Corrections, the captured inmates told officials they were upset after Gov. Jay Inslee announced a statewide order to stay at home to fight the coronavirus pandemic and “the virus outbreak has them all scared.”

They escaped about an hour after the governor’s televised address Monday. Six were still on the run as of Tuesday afternoon.

The inmates escaped by breaking open a door to the outside using a table from their cell block. 

But Sheriff Bob Udell isn’t convinced the coronavirus pandemic is solely why they fled.

“Do I think they may have said something about the coronavirus? Maybe. But I don’t think they wanted to be there anyway,” Udell said with a chuckle. “They’ve probably been eyeballing this door for a long time.”

Sheriff Udell says the door was a known weak point of the county jail, which is in desperate need of renovations. Last week, the jail placed 11 inmates under quarantine after some developed coughs but tests for COVID-19 were negative. To prevent coronavirus spread, the jail has started screening incoming inmates for symptoms. 

County Commissioner Vicki Baker says the jailbreak points to the jail’s poor condition. 

“The main county jail and annex need to be replaced, and it will be expensive,” Baker said. “But we’re looking at options. We’re looking at what we can afford. And that’s a different answer sometimes. And especially in the middle of a crisis.”

The jail was built in 1984. The county has been reviewing facilities over the past year, but accessing state and federal dollars for renovations or new construction has been a challenge recently, Baker said. 

The Sheriff’s Office is investigating the jailbreak.  The U.S. Marshall’s Service is offering up to $1,000 for tips leading to an arrest. Anyone in the area with information is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 509-574-2500 or 911.

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