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Preliminary examinations set for escaped inmates

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The two inmates whose escape from a New Mexico Corrections Department transport vehicle in March during a gas stop in Artesia have been scheduled for preliminary examination.

Joseph Cruz, 33, of Raton, and Lionel Clah, 30, of Farmington, are slated to appear Oct. 5 in Artesia Magistrate Court on charges of escape from a penitentiary, a second-degree felony.

Cruz and Clah escaped in the early morning hours of March 10 from the Allsup’s at First Street and Richey Avenue, walking out of the back of a transport van and into the vehicle of Jesus Quintana of Lake Arthur, who provided the pair with clothing, beer, and tools with which to remove their shackles, and arranged to drive them to Albuquerque for payment.

Quintana was arrested March 21 and charged with two counts of assisting escape and two counts of furnishing articles for a prisoner’s escape.

The escape, which was not discovered until the NMCD van reached Las Cruces around three hours later, prompted an extensive manhunt in the Artesia area that continued into the afternoon, when hotel surveillance footage showed the two men were in Albuquerque.

Cruz was apprehended March 11 and Clah March 12. Two women, one the sister of Cruz, were also arrested for their roles in aiding the fugitives.

The fact the inmates were able to exit the transport van unnoticed and the length of time between their escape, its discovery, and the subsequent notification to the community that two dangerous felons could be on the loose sparked outrage in Artesia. The state originally stated it would fire the two guards involved, Taracina Morgan and Michael Ortega, but later backed down. The NMCD would not disclose whether disciplinary actions were taken against the guards.

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