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Relief after Michigan prison escapee captured in LaPorte Co.

Published On: Feb 03 2014 03:33:17 AM CST
Updated On: Feb 04 2014 09:30:16 AM CST

WSBT's Ted Land was live Monday night in LaPorte County where police captured an escaped murderer from Michigan.

LAPORTE COUNTY -

Relief is probably the best word to describe how a lot of people feel now that a convicted murderer who escaped Sunday night from the Ionia, Mich. Correctional Facility has been captured.

40-year-old Michael David Elliot was arrested Monday evening by deputies of the LaPorte County Sheriff's Department.

Elliot, a convicted quadruple murderer, dug a hole in two perimeter fences to escape from the Michigan prison and made his way 100 miles south to northern Indiana after he carjacked a woman.

Elliot stopped to fill the stolen car with gas in Middlebury where the victim was able to escape into the gas station's restroom. A 911 operator told her to stay there, and police say Elliot got nervous and drove off.

LISTEN TO THE 911 CALL FROM THE VICTIM AT THE GAS STATION

The woman's Jeep Liberty was then abandoned in a Shipshewana neighborhood.

Police say around 5:30 p.m. CST, Elliot stole another car from Aero Metals on Darlington St. in LaPorte. The owner of the Chevrolet Monte Carlo had started the vehicle and let it idle unattended. He came back outside a few minutes later to see his car backing out of a parking space and heading south.

Police spotted the car and pursued it heading east out of the LaPorte city limits. 

That's when county police took over the pursuit.

Elliot was caught near Rolling Prairie at 150 North and 250 East early Monday evening.

State Police Sgt. Ron Galaviz says a LaPorte County deputy arrested the suspect. The deputy ran the vehicle's license plate, tried to stop Elliot and the stolen car when Elliot sped away.

Elliot was alone in the vehicle.

Police tell WSBT Elliot stole a total of four cars during his time on the run, including one in Middlebury.

We spoke with one of the deputies who apprehended Elliot Monday evening.

"I didn't realize it was him until when we asked him who he was," described Deputy Slawek Czupyrna. "He told us Michael Elliot. He was the one that escaped from Michigan prison so at that time, we, my assisting officer Deputy Wright, we kind of looked at each other, and we were like, 'I can't believe it. We have him. We got him.'"

Elliot is now behind bars at the LaPorte county jail.

All the agencies involved in the manhunt are now coordinating to see what charges he will face and where. In the meantime, a lot of people will rest much easier knowing Elliot is in custody.  

Police Monday afternoon confirmed they found the 2004 red Jeep Liberty carjacked by Elliot in Shipshewana.

However, WSBT learned the Jeep was found at 5:30 a.m. in the Shipshewana Villas neighborhood. But no one called and reported it to police until seven hours later.

As a precaution, police evacuated students at Shipshewana-Scott Elementary School, which is less than a mile from where the abandoned Jeep was found. 

Indiana State Police in Fort Wayne say a perimeter was set up around the location where the Jeep was located.

Police tell WSBT they cleared the neighborhood with no signs of the suspect, and they towed the Jeep.

Officials were stunned by the Elliot's brazen escape Sunday night. He had a record of good behavior during his 20 years in custody. He wore a white civilian kitchen uniform to evade security and blend in with snow at the Ionia Correctional Facility in western Michigan, prisons spokesman Russ Marlan said.

Prison fences were equipped with motion sensors to alert guards. The fences also carry electric current to shock anyone that touches them.

"It appears that did not happen. ... He was not zapped with electricity, and he was not picked up by the motion sensors," Marlan said.

STORY: Budget cuts to blame for prison escape?

An alert on Elliot was issued to law enforcement nationwide. The woman told police that he said he wanted to get as far from the Michigan prison as possible.

"We had dog teams. We had a helicopter from the state police," said Michigan Corrections Department Director Dan Heyns. "The response was good but he'd left the area by the time we were mobilized totally 100 percent. It didn't take him long to get down to Indiana. ... His flight path now has expanded dramatically."

Nothing in Elliot's record suggested he might escape, said Heyns, adding, "This was an entirely one-man operation."

The woman who was abducted by Elliot was able to call 911 from a concealed cellphone while he was pumping gas at the store near Middlebury in Elkhart County, Ind. She ran to a restroom where she locked herself inside. Elliot knocked on the door, but she stayed inside until police arrived and wasn't harmed.

Elliot was discovered missing from the prison about 9:30 p.m. Sunday, probably 2 ½ hours after he escaped by using his hands to create a hole in two fences, Marlan said.

"There was a perimeter vehicle with an armed officer who was circling the facility during this time period. (Elliot) was able to evade or avoid detection," Marlan said.

He said it wasn't immediately known if electronic security measures at the fence were not working or if Elliot somehow avoided them.

Elliot was serving life behind bars for fatally shooting four people and burning down their Gladwin County house in 1993 when he was 20 years old, according to court records. Elliot and his accomplices were trying to steal money from a drug dealer, police said.

He was arrested a few days later in possession of a gun that tied him to the slayings. One of Elliot's co-defendants testified against him, saying he laughed about shooting the victims in the head.

Elliot was convicted of first-degree murder in 1994 and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

WSBT spoke with Westview School Superintendent Randy Zimmerly who said all schools were under lockdown, per the suggestion of state police. 

The district was "notified about the issue the police were dealing with and we did go on lockdown, which basically means all exterior doors are locked," Zimmerly says.

However, Zimmerly said students were dismissed at their proper time. Police assisted in the dismissal at every elementary school and also in neighborhoods where a large amount of students get off the bus.