Deputies catch second of three escapees

Donald Ray Stephenson, 45, one of three prisoners who escaped from the Merced County Jail a week ago, is behind bars again following his capture Sunday afternoon by sheriff's deputies near McKee and Stretch roads.

Deputy Kevin Blake, a member of the Sheriff's Tactical and Reconnaissance team, caught Stephenson in a field following a foot chase spanning three quarters of a mile. Blake said he used a Taser on the escapee as he was fleeing in an open field and he gave up running.

Freedom was short-lived for Stephenson and even shorter for Christopher Daniels, 28, who was caught Tuesday night by Turlock Police Department officers in a porta-potty. Daniels had asked a man where he might hide from the law and the man later tipped off officers about his whereabouts.

Deputies are still looking for 28-year-old Richard Perry. Daniels, Perry and Stephenson are believed to have crawled through a ceiling vent in one of the dorm bathrooms to the roof at the John Latorraca Adult Correctional Facility between midnight Jan. 20 and before 7 a.m. Jan. 21.

Blake said STAR team officers received information that Stephenson was at a home in the 2500 block of McKee Road. As he was driving along McKee Road about 4:30 p.m., Blake noticed Stephenson standing in the front lawn of a home there. Stephenson was carrying several items wrapped up in a bedsheet and ran along McKee Road to Stretch Road into a field.

Inside the sheet were a .50-caliber Flintlock rifle, five swords and a dagger, about four grams of methamphetamine and a smoking pipe, Blake said.

State parole agent Craig Donnahoe, a member of the STAR team, praised deputies for their efforts. He said the STAR team spent a couple hundred hours this week looking for the escapees.

"They're (STAR team members) intelligent, tactful and hard-working," Donnahoe said. "These guys have a no-quit attitude."

Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said deputies are moving "full speed ahead" to catch Perry. The department also will step up enforcement efforts against friends or relatives who shelter a prisoner or help him escape. Anyone who aids and abets a prisoner's escape also faces the prospect of jail, the sheriff warned.

Stephenson, a parolee at-large, was being charged with escape, resisting arrest, possession of methamphetamine, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and possession of narcotics paraphernalia. He originally was being held for check fraud and theft charges.

Daniels originally was in custody on charges of receiving stolen property; Perry was incarcerated on identity theft and receiving stolen property charges.

The three prisoners' escape was the second so far this year at the El Nido area jail. They were noticed missing during a 7 a.m. head count. Also outstanding is Javier Fonseca Jaramillo, a drug offender who walked away while on the way to get diabetic medicine from the jail dispensary.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.