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Prison escapee facing new charges

(NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The convicted murderer who escaped the Ionia Correctional Facility Sunday night is behind bars and is facing new charges.

Authorities in Laporte County Indiana arrested 40-year-old Michael Elliot Monday night around 7:00.  

Elliot's journey was lengthy. First he escaped from the Ionia Correctional Facility, captured a woman from Ionia County and drove her car to Middlebury, Indiana where he was spotted at a gas station.

It was there the woman was able to escape and call 9-1-1.

The woman's car was then found in Shipshewana, Indiana at an apartment complex. Elliot was nowhere to be found.

After hours of searching a Laporte County, Indiana deputy spotted another reported stolen car taken from Arrow Metals. When the deputy tried to make a stop, the car sped away.

After a short chase the driver stopped.

Newschannel 3 spoke with the deputy who arrested Elliot.

"After the vehicle came to rest, at that time I didn't know who the driver was," said Deputy Slawek Czupryna. "We pulled him out, took him to the ground and handcuffed him. We asked him who he was. That's when he said "Michael Elliot." He was the one who escaped from Michigan."

Elliot is now facing charges. He's in the Laporte County Jail Tuesday morning. He's expected to be in court Wednesday to face charges.

It took teamwork from multiple police departments across two states to bring him into custody.

We asked the two deputies who took him into custody about the moment they realized they had caught the convicted murderer.

"We asked him who he was and that was when he told is he was Michael Elliot, that he was the one that escaped from Michigan and we kind of looked at each other, me and Deputy Wright, and we couldn't believe it. We actually had him," said Deputy Czupryna.

"It was a bit of a shock. Last we heard he was over in the Nappanee area or Shipsahiwana. Once he told me who he was it was a bit of a shock that he was out this way but also a bit of a relief that he was in custody and everything went well, nobody got hurt. Our guys are all safe and we're all going home in one piece," said Deputy Jeff Wright.

During a news conference after his arrest Indiana State Police told us this was a win for law enforcement. They say they had officers from departments all over the state working together to track Elliot down.

"It's a big sigh of relief. It's a big weight off of our shoulders, because people were walking around here on pins and needles all day. It's not every day that a convicted killer escapes prison and makes his or her way to small town USA," said Sgt. Ron Galaviz of the Indiana State Police.

Elliot is being held on charges of resisting law enforcement, possession of stolen property and being a wanted person. He is being held without bond.

We're being told he will be extradited back here to Michigan.

Governor Snyder is congratulating law enforcement for their efforts. In statement he says, "Now that we are assured the public is safe, we will turn our attention to thoroughly reviewing the situation that led to the prisoner's escape. We will demand an exhaustive assessment of the incident and take whatever appropriate action is needed to prevent future incidents."

We are also hearing from the 9-1-1 operator who helped Cheryl Vanwormer of Belding get away from Elliot.

He abducted the Census worker in Ionia. As we've told you, she managed to get away and lock herself inside a gas station bathroom in Middlebury, Indiana.

Heather Lock has been a 911 communications dispatcher for three years. She says she's never received a call like this before.

Lock says her main priority was getting the hostage inside the gas station away from Elliot.

"You need to figure out somehow, how to get into the gas station. I said, 'Go tell him you need to go to the restroom or something. Do not hang up the phone with me. Keep an open phone somehow. Get into the bathroom somehow and make contact with me again,'" said Lock.

Lock stayed on the phone with Vanwormer until officers arrived. By that time Elliot had already taken off.

The search for Elliot grabbed the national spotlight. Multiple media outlets followed the manhunt for Elliot all the way from his escape in Ionia to his capture in Laporte County, where deputies found him in a stolen car.

But now the question remains, how did this happen, how was a convicted murderer able to escape the facility?

Investigators say Elliott was discovered missing from the Ionia Correctional Facility around 9:15 Sunday night, during a head count.

He was wearing a white prison kitchen suit, when he escaped. Investigators believe that may have helped him get away.

He got out through the prison's fence.

"That white uniform he was wearing blended with the snow on the ground and he made his way up to our perimeter fences and moved them, bent them," said Russ Marlan of the Michigan Dept. of Corrections.

It comes down to money. Workers at Michigan prisons say the dangerous prison-break could have been prevented if the state hadn't cut funding for prisons.

Michigan Corrections Organization President Tom Tylutki told us budget cuts are threatening safety at prisons across the state. He says up until a year ago, an armed patrol vehicle circled the perimeter of the Ionia facility 24-7.

But due to cuts, there are now only random patrols, when an officer has time.

Tylutki also says six months ago the Department of Corrections decided not to put an armed guard in the gun tower anymore.

"I'd like to tell you I was surprised, but won't. All the recent cuts in corrections, it doesn't really surprise me," said Tylutki. "Just six months ago we held an informational picket at the prison in Ionia when they closed the gun towers. We thought it was a bad idea, we tried to warn the director, tried to speak with the doctor, tried to warn the Governor's Office, but it absolutely fell on deaf ears."

Governor Snyder released a statement Monday night congratulating law enforcement officials for capturing Michael Elliot, but he also said now that the public is safe is wants a review of the situation that led to Elliot's escape.

"The investigation needs to take place. It will be thorough and it will be public. The information will come out in due course," said Governor Snyder.

Snyder says after the investigation he will do whatever is needed to prevent future incidents.