Md. Inmate Killed After Escape, Carjackings

Kelvin Poke
Kelvin Poke ( Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services)
By Rosalind S. Helderman and Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Maryland inmate overpowered five guards at a Laurel hospital yesterday morning and took two guns, setting off an intense manhunt that ended when the prisoner was fatally wounded seven hours later in a shootout with police at a cemetery in Prince George's County, authorities said.

Immediately after his escape, Kelvin D. Poke shot a man outside Laurel Regional Hospital and stole his car, prompting 10 county schools nearby to secure their buildings and putting law enforcement officials throughout the region in a heightened state of alert. Poke abandoned the car in the District and carjacked another vehicle, authorities said. As hundreds of officers joined the search, county police spotted Poke at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Suitland.

The escape raised concerns about the safety of treating violent offenders -- Poke, 45, was serving a life sentence for carjacking and kidnapping -- at community hospitals. In November, a prisoner wrestled a gun away from a state trooper at the same hospital and escaped, avoiding capture for five hours.

Poke, an inmate at the maximum-security Jessup Correctional Institution, was admitted to the hospital Tuesday after complaining of chest pains, said Greg Shipley, a Maryland State Police spokesman. When Poke escaped, about 8 a.m. on a chilly day, he was shirtless, shoeless and wearing prison-issue jeans.

In his room on the hospital's fourth floor, Poke overpowered the two correctional officers -- under Department of Public Safety protocol, only one was armed -- assigned to guard him, Shipley said. Two officers guarding another inmate responded and were also overpowered, he said. Poke seized a .38-caliber handgun from each of the armed guards, Shipley said.

Although Poke fired several shots in the hallway, Shipley said, none of the officers was injured, and it was unclear whether Poke fired at the officers or to break his leg shackles. He was not handcuffed at the time of the escape, Shipley said.

An unarmed private security guard for the hospital was also overpowered when he responded to the uproar. At gunpoint, Poke forced him down a staircase, where one of the officers' guns was later found, and outside the building.

There, Poke fired through the window of a Toyota Camry, striking the 51-year-old driver in the head, and fled in the car. The driver, whom police have not identified, was hospitalized in good condition.

Ten schools in Laurel were locked down, and some hospital employees locked themselves in their offices as authorities fanned out in search of the escaped man.

The hunt moved to the District at midday, when police recovered the Toyota, on fire in the 1100 block of First Street NW. Police said Poke carjacked a second vehicle nearby, a D.C. government Ford Explorer Sport Trac.

Maj. Joseph McCann, commander of the Prince George's police district in which the cemetery is located, said at a late afternoon news conference that county police had intensified their patrols near the District after the second carjacking. According to Cpl. Clinton Copeland, a police spokesman, investigators said police were acting on a tip when they spotted the Ford Explorer at the cemetery, parked and visible from Suitland Road, about 3:30 p.m.

McCann said it was unclear why Poke was at the cemetery. He said Poke, by then wearing a white T-shirt, opened fire without saying a word. "He just fired on our officers," McCann said.

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