Texas escapee cut metal, crawled under cage on bus to attack driver, officials say

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The manhunt for a convicted killer who cut through a metal plate on a prison bus to attack and stab the driver and escape stretched into its seventh day Wednesday, officials said.

New surveillance video photos of Gonzalo Lopez, 46, who authorities say escaped in Leon County last Thursday after he briefly got control of the bus, were released by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on Wednesday.

“Everything that we know right now indicates that he is still in this area,” said Robert Hurst, a public information officer for the department.

Escaped inmate Gonzalo Lopez, 46, assaulted a correctional officer on a transport bus and then fled from the vehicle, authorities say. (Texas Department of Criminal Justice)
Escaped inmate Gonzalo Lopez, 46, assaulted a correctional officer on a transport bus and then fled from the vehicle, authorities say. (Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

Lopez, who is serving a life sentence for murder and attempted murder convictions, got free of his restraints, cut through metal and crawled underneath a cage before he attacked the driver as the bus was west of Centerville, the department said.

He stabbed the driver in the hand, and they ended up outside the bus in a physical fight, officials said.

Lopez then got back on the bus and began driving, and the officers shot the rear tire before the bus went off the highway, officials said. Lopez got out and fled into a wooded area, the Criminal Justice Department said.

“We don’t know what he used” to cut through the metal area and crawl into the driver’s compartment, Hurst said. He said investigators are talking to the two corrections officers and the other inmates who were on the bus to learn more.

More than 300 law enforcement officers are involved in the search area, which has a perimeter of around 5 square miles, Hurst said. The area, described as rural, with farms and ranches, is about halfway between Houston and Dallas.

A $50,000 reward has also been offered for information leading to Lopez’s capture. Anyone seeing anyone suspicious is asked to call police.

On the day he escaped, Lopez was being taken from the Gatesville prison to Huntsville for a medical appointment, officials said.

Other inmates on the bus remained in their restraints, officials said. Lopez was in a separate caged area for high-security inmates, the Criminal Justice Department said.

A second officer was in a rear area also separated by a door, Hurst has said. When the escape attempt began, the officer exited through the rear door and approached Lopez, who got back on the bus and started driving, the department said.

Lopez was convicted in 2006 of kidnapping a man and killing him with a pick in Hidalgo County in 2005, according to court documents, and he was sentenced to life in prison.

Jason Clark, chief of staff for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, has said that Lopez was convicted of killing the man after a ransom was not paid and that Lopez has a history with gangs in the U.S. and Mexico.

In 2007, Lopez was convicted of attempted capital murder in a 2004 incident in Webb County. Lopez was in a car with another man who shot at sheriff’s deputies during a chase, according to court documents.

Lopez escaped on foot while the other man was apprehended by Border Patrol, records show.

In 2005, he was arrested on unrelated charges in Starr County, Texas, and gave a statement that said following his escape in Webb County he had been helped to Rio Grande City and then moved to Mexico by the Mexican Mafia, according to court records.

In that statement he also gave details about the murder in Hidalgo County, according to the records.