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Jan 28, 2004

Two Guatemalan prisoners escape across border

They were accused in the jacking of a pair of Dutch tourists near the Maya site of Xunantunich. But while on their way from Hattieville prison to court this morning in Benque Viejo, what had been a textbook example of good police work turned into a scene from The Keystone Cops. The three Guatemalan suspects: Eldner Portillo, Jose Teul, and Angel Mejia, were among a group of six prisoners riding in the back of a Ford F-150 pickup belonging to the Immigration Department. They were handcuffed when they left Hattieville and were accompanied by an armed police officer. When the vehicle reached the speed bump near the Mopan River in Benque, however, the three Guatemalans jumped out of the pan and ran toward the water. According to police, warning shots were fired, but the men kept running. Portillo took a bullet in the shoulder and was recaptured, but Teul and Mejia made it across the river and presumably into Guatemala. The police high command is said to be steaming over the incident and an investigation is underway to determine exactly what went wrong and how the prisoners were able to escape so easily. Meanwhile, Guatemalan authorities have pledged their assistance in apprehending the fugitives. At news time, however, no success has been reported. The practice of transporting prisoners in open pickups has been frequently criticised both from a safety, security, and humanitarian standpoint.

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