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ET June 11, 2015

Twelve years ago, police were on the lookout for two convicted murderers who escaped from the Elmira Correctional Facility. Until a few days ago, it was the last successful prison break in New York. Correctional Facility.

The last prison escape in New York state took place in July 2003, when two convicted murderers fled the maximum security Elmira Correctional Facility, only to be recaptured two days later.

Inmates Timothy A. Vail and Timothy G. Morgan slipped out of the prison after months of planning, but Vail was hurt during the escape and they were soon caught.


Hampered by Vail’s injuries, the two inmates were recaptured two days later by a team of state troopers and investigators who responded to a stolen car report in the Village of Horseheads.

A report issued by the state Department of Correctional Services a year after the escape pointed to a “widespread breakdown” in the Elmira prison’s security system.

The men used a stolen sledgehammer to chip an 8 inch by 12 inch hole into the ceiling of their cell, climbed into the ventilation system and escaped to the roof. They left behind dummies in their beds, and used a 61 foot rope of bedsheets to descend the outer wall of the prison.

The state undertook several corrective actions at the Elmira Correctional Facility following the escape, including advising correction officers that it is their duty to “count actual living, breathing bodies” during their rounds.

Policies for inmate use of tools also were tightened down, and cell standards were improved to make it easier to detect any alterations to ceilings or walls.

(Photo: AP FILE PHOTO / Provided by New York State Department of Correctional Services)

The state also built two fences topped with razor wire around most of the sprawling facility.

“The remedial actions deemed necessary in this report were implemented within the first two months of the escape,” then Commissioner of Corrections Glenn S. Goord said at the beginning of the March 2004 report. “In issuing this report, I want to assure the public and our employees that the Elmira Correctional Facility remains a secure work site, safe for the Chemung County community that surrounds it.”

Investigators recommended the termination of three officers following the escape.

State Elmira Escape Report (PDF)

State Elmira Escape Report (Text)

Every law enforcement officer in Chemung County was on high alert during those two days, knowing any suspicious activity could have been the work of the two escapees, said Chemung County Sheriff Christopher Moss, who was a lieutenant in the patrol division at the time.

“I think all residents around the county were apprehensive about where they had gone,
polo outlet birmingham al Elmira 2003 prison escape called 'widespread breakdown'
and were they still in the area?” Moss said. “Law enforcement was vigilant. Any suspicious condition, clothes stolen, any burglary, all complaints were heightened, knowing these individuals might be responsible.

“Until you have a positive sighting, you have to think they are anywhere, especially still in the area,” Moss said. “They didn’t have a good plan for once they got outside the prison. Law enforcement did a good job of tightening down.”

It seems like the two inmates currently on the run, Richard Matt and David Sweat, did a better job planning both the escape and the getaway afterward, Moss said.

Local law enforcement officials are also on high alert during the latest search, he said, especially since one of them has ties to Broome County.

Sweat was convicted of first degree murder for killing Broome County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Tarsia, then 36, on July 4, 2002.

Acting state Commissioner of Corrections and Community Supervision Anthony J. Annucci conducted a conference call over the weekend with all prison superintendents to make sure all facilities are safe and secure, department spokeswoman Linda Foglia said.

“He instructed each superintendent to conduct a full review of policies and procedures related to the prevention of escapes,” Foglia said in an email. “In addition, staff were directed to take immediate steps to ensure inspections of their facilities and the review of security practices regarding the prevention of escapes.”
polo outlet birmingham al Elmira 2003 prison escape called 'widespread breakdown'