It may never be known as the great escape, but Sunday's unscheduled departure of an inmate from the Northern Virginia Regional Juvenile Detention Home certainly had drama.

A midafternoon basketball game was under way on the facility's outdoor court when a speeding car rammed into a 14-foot-high locked delivery gate, knocking it over, according to police and a detention home official.

Taking his cue, a 17-year-old inmate from Falls Church broke from the basketball game, ran through the breach in the fence and dove through an open window of the car, which sped away.

"We've been here 27 years," said the home's director, Jay Melvin. "We've had kids go over the fence and go out the front door. But we've never had anything quite this dramatic."

Officials believe Sunday's escape was planned well in advance, Melvin said.

A second car circled the area at the time, a police spokesman said. There were several occupants in the cars, both of which were Toyotas and are believed to be stolen, said Melvin.

Melvin said one of the passengers was identified as a 16-year-old Falls Church youth who had escaped from the Home June 10 by jumping over the chain-link fence that surrounds the facility at 200 S. Whiting St. and is topped with barbed wire.

Because the suspects are juveniles, officials declined to say why the youths were at the home. But Melvin said they were associated with a gang that has been responsible for local robberies and car thefts.

The 43-bed home, which serves four jurisdictions, Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church and Fairfax County, is a temporary holding facility for juveniles accused of serious crimes, Melvin said in a recent interview.

"We try to help them clean up their act," he said, until the courts make a final disposition of their cases.

As for escapes, Melvin said he prefers the term "unauthorized leaves."