Report: Gonzalo Lopez requested books on survival techniques and weapons ahead of escape
The inmate escaped from a prison bus in May and led law enforcement on a weeks-long manhunt before murdering a family of five in Centerville.
CENTERVILLE, Texas (KBTX) -Serious incident reviews from both the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and CGL Companies, a criminal justice consulting firm, blame a series of missteps and failures that led to the escape of convicted killer Gonzalo Lopez and the subsequent senseless murder of Mark Collins and his four grandsons Waylon, Carson, Hudson, and Bryson.
Lopez made a daring escape from a prison transport bus on May 12, as he was being transported to a medical appointment in Huntsville. Officials say Lopez escaped after he broke free from his restraints, cut through a cage, and attacked the bus driver causing a crash in Centerville.
Lopez is accused of murdering the family when they returned to their vacation home in Leon County in early June.
Prior to the murder of the Collins family, Lopez eluded law enforcement for 21 days after assaulting a TDCJ officer on a transport bus that was traveling from the Hughes Unit in Gatesville to Huntsville.
Lopez was eventually killed in a shootout with law enforcement near San Antonio.
The 51-page report from CGL and 14-page report from the TDCJ’s internal review highlight the staffing challenge the prison faced at the time of the escape along with failed transportation & search procedures, security lapses, and issues with restraints and training.
The TDCJ says since the incident, they have taken numerous corrective measures to address the issues found in both the internal and external investigations.
Mitchel Roth Ph.D., professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Sam Houston State University says the information learned from these reports will help ensure that a situation of this magnitude doesn’t happen again not only in Texas but across the United States. Roth says that based on the reports released and issues seen at prisons across the county he believes part of the problems were compounded by the pandemic.
“It’d been endemic really, at the Hughes Unit the lack of search protocol and shortcuts, and one of the things I think should be mentioned was that during about a two-year period of COVID they weren’t doing these prison transports from one place to another,” said Roth. “I think perhaps some of the job either was forgotten or they had to relearn security procedures for moving inmates from one location to another.”
Roth says at the end of the day the issues break down to a lack of staff.
“Across the prison system, there’s roughly a 32% lack of correctional officers and at the Hughes unit, where Lopez escaped, it was over 40%. So you had correctional officers doing multiple jobs and perhaps, they were taking shortcuts in order to do this,” Roth said. “What they’re going to do from now on, according to the recommendations, is they want the prisoners to just be wearing boxer shorts and slip-on shoes when they come out to be transported, and then they’re all put into, kind of a prison garb with the slip-on shoes so there are less hiding places.”
Roth says it’s some of the less obvious red flags that went unnoticed that’s concerning.
“Several things that I found in the different reports that I didn’t really hear in any type of news coverage, we’re little things actually, that I found fascinating. One of them was that Lopez had requested some books on survival, and survival skills, and that sort of thing,” said Roth. “There were like six books that he had ordered, and they wouldn’t let him get the books. But they didn’t keep a record that he had asked for those ahead of time. If they had some type of system for keeping track of who asked for books like that, you know, that might be something to think about.”
Professor Roth says allowing inmates to carry a bag with personal belongings on the transport bus without being properly searched is equally concerning.
“One of the other things that I haven’t heard mentioned is inmates were allowed to bring some personal property in a bag,” said Roth. " Once the contents of the bag were put in they weren’t searched before they were brought onto the bus. The contents were listed. They were in the bag. But the problem was they were listed by the prisoner bringing them.”
“They have to establish a much better protocol,” said Roth. “I think one of the things that they’ve recommended is no personal items on the prison transport.”
Reports also outline that inmates were given advance notice as to when medical transports would occur.
“One of the issues has been, and it was the case in this particular incident, is they were aware when the date and time was of the prison transport to the medical appointment,” Roth said. “And somebody basically leaked this to the inmates. So they knew ahead of time when this was going to go down.”
During the initial search for Lopez and prior to the family’s death, it was discovered that the Collins family home had been broken into but it was never clear if the family or any neighbors were notified of the developments.
An independent review from the Texas Rangers has not been released which will hopefully shed light on questions that remain around the 21-day search following Lopez’s escape.
In a media release on June 14 Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called on the Texas Rangers to conduct an independent review of the incident and stated that there needs to be accountability and answers from state prison officials.
In his media release, Patrick said he wants the following questions answered:
- How did the prisoner, who was handcuffed and locked in a secure cage inside the prison bus, remove his handcuffs, escape the cage and attack the driver?
- How did the second guard in the back of the bus not see what was happening?
- Was the prisoner fully searched as protocol required before getting on the bus?
- How was the escapee able to elude hundreds of law enforcement, bloodhounds and air patrols for several weeks?
- Was the community put on high alert after a cabin near the Collins family cabin was broken into a few days prior to their murder?
“This is a crime that was preventable on several levels and should never have happened. My request for an investigation is not about affixing blame, but rather to ensure TDCJ procedures and protocols are adequate and always followed. There must be accountability,” said Patrick. “We must answer these questions. We have a duty to all Texans to ensure this never happens to any family again.”
KBTX will continue investigating these documents.
The complete CGL report and TDCJ Serious Incident Review can be viewed below.
KBTX has covered the case extensively. Previous coverage can be found below.
- Focus at Four: The Marshall Project investigates the case of escaped inmate Gonzalo Lopez
- TDCJ investigation into prison escape that led to murder of family nearing completion
- TDCJ suspending transport of prison inmates following Gonzalo Lopez escape, murders
- TDCJ still believes Gonzalo Lopez in Leon County on day eight of search
- Authorities release new photos of convicted killer
- TDCJ resumes prison transports following Gonzalo Lopez escape
- Houston family grieves grandfather, 4 grandchildren killed by escaped inmate
- Lawmaker believes Gonzalo Lopez had help from other inmates, used prison-made tools to escape
Copyright 2022 KBTX. All rights reserved.