After the vehicle crashed into a cow pasture in rural Leon County, Lopez escaped from the corrections department bus and fled across the pasture at around 1:20 p.m., authorities said.
Multiple agencies, including the state’s Office of the Inspector General, have joined in the search for Lopez near the city of Centerville, which is about halfway between Houston and Dallas. Local authorities are urging residents to “lock your doors and vehicles” if they see Lopez, who was last spotted going west on Highway 7 about 1.5 miles from Interstate 45.
“If you spot Lopez, immediately contact 911 and do not approach him,” Hurst said in a news release. He added to KPRC, “This individual should be considered armed and dangerous. Although we do not believe he has a weapon in his possession at this time, he is someone that anybody who sees him should not try to take into custody themselves.”
Hurst told The Washington Post that roughly 300 law enforcement officers were searching for Lopez as of Friday morning.
“Still looking for him,” Hurst said. “For anybody in the public, please do not deal with this guy individually. Do not engage with this guy.”
The escape in Texas follows the 11-day search in Alabama that came to an end this week with escaped prisoner Casey White’s capture and corrections officer Vicky White’s death, eventually ruled a suicide. The pair had a “jailhouse romance” and Vicky White, 56, was accused of helping 38-year-old Casey White escape, according to authorities.
Lopez was convicted of capital murder in 2006 for killing a man near the southern border the previous year. Lopez kidnapped the man and attempted to extract a ransom from his wife over a drug debt before killing him, according to KGNS. Hurst told The Post that Lopez killed the man with a pickax.
The 46-year-old’s record includes multiple offenses in Hidalgo County, inmate records show. He was also convicted of attempted capital murder for firing gunshots at a sheriff in Webb County, according to authorities. Lopez isn’t eligible for parole until April 2045, according to inmate records.
As the long, white transport bus carrying 16 inmates was in the middle of the 160-mile trip from Gatesville to Huntsville, Lopez was able to get out of his restraints and enter the cage-like area where the bus driver, Randy Smith, was located, Hurst told reporters. It remains unclear how Lopez got out of the restraints — or acquired an object used to stab Smith.
“They got into a physical altercation while Officer Smith was driving the bus. He stabbed Officer Smith in the left hand with some sort of object,” Hurst said. “Officer Smith struggled with him trying to keep him from getting his service revolver — his weapon.”
At that point, the bus crashed into a cow pasture as Smith prevented Lopez from getting his gun, according to TDCJ.
“The inmate bailed out of the bus, the other inmates were still in their seats — still in their restraints,” Hurst told reporters Thursday.
An officer onboard the bus, Jimmy Brinegar, fired his service weapon and a shotgun at the fleeing inmate, but it is unclear if any of the shots hit Lopez, Hurst said.
The injuries suffered by Smith are not life-threatening, according to TDCJ. None of the other officers or inmates onboard were hurt.
Hurst said the only other instance of an inmate escaping since he joined TDCJ in 2013 involved a prisoner who was captured in about two hours.
“I would say this is rare,” he told The Post.
The manhunt for Lopez caused the Centerville Independent School District to cancel classes Friday. The district cited the guidance from the Leon County Sheriff’s Office that everyone who lives west of Interstate 45 should “shelter in place.” The news of Lopez’s escape had elementary and high school students in “a precautionary lockdown” before they were sent home.
Centerville resident Melanie Tieperman said to KBTX that she and her son drove past Lopez as he fled the bus and ran into the pasture, noting that he jumped a fence and ran in the direction of a home.
“We saw the inmate,” her son is heard saying in a video, according to KBTX. “What the heck?”
🔴BREAKING NEWS: Inmate steals TDCJ bus in Leon County, TX and flees into the woods along Highway 7 near Centerville. Local schools are on lockdown.
📸: This is exclusive video to the @KBTXNews newsroom showing the inmate running away.
— Rusty Surette (@KBTXRusty) May 12, 2022
She said the manhunt for the escaped convicted murderer has left the community “pretty nervous.”
“They’re locking all their homes and doors,” she told the outlet. “I’ve never really paid attention to those buses going down the road but I guarantee you I probably will be from here on out. You don’t think about all the safety issues that you could deal with but really makes you start thinking.”