District officials are trying to determine how two D.C. inmates serving time for murder were able to escape from two guards who were driving them back to a Virginia prison from a court appearance in Tennessee.

Daniel Kinard, 28, and Reginald Yelverton, 31, fled after the two guards left a door to the van they were driving unlocked when they stopped for breakfast Saturday at a Hardee's restaurant in Marion, Va., said an official with the Corrections Corp. of America, which owns the company that employs the guards. The inmates were recaptured the same day.

Joseph Johnson, a CCA board member, also acknowledged that Kinard and Yelverton may have gotten a key to free themselves from leg irons.

"You can smuggle those things in," Johnson said. "They're the worst nightmare of any correctional facility."

Kinard was caught a short time later, but it took authorities about eight hours to recapture Yelverton, who was found in a wooded area after crashing a van he had stolen from a family that was packing for a vacation.

It all began about 6 a.m. Saturday when the two guards, William Hilliard and James Jones, were driving Kinard and Yelverton from Covington, Tenn., to the Red Onion maximum-security prison in Pound, Va., according to interviews and police radio transcripts obtained by The Washington Post. The inmates were in Tennessee to testify at the trial of another inmate.

After traveling about 440 miles from Covington, Hilliard and Jones pulled into the Hardee's parking lot, about 100 miles from the Red Onion facility. The guards went into the restaurant and ordered breakfast for the inmates. They returned, opened the van door and handed the inmates some food. Hilliard was responsible for bolting the door but apparently didn't, officials said. The guards also apparently did not notice that the inmates had freed themselves from the leg irons.

One of the guards went back into the restaurant to get breakfast for himself and his partner, officials said, while the other stood outside, near the van. The inmates then kicked open the van door and fled in different directions.

"He tried to grab him, but he got away," Johnson said. "It was a matter of 20 seconds."

The guard ran to get his partner, and "they gave chase," Johnson said. Hilliard and Jones notified Marion police, and Kinard was found 45 minutes later not far from the restaurant, authorities said.

But it took nearly eight hours to capture Yelverton. Dressed in dark blue pants and a light blue shirt, the Northwest Washington man--who in 1989 was sentenced to life in prison for second-degree murder while armed--stole a minivan from a family's carport as they were packing for vacation. The keys had been left in the vehicle.

"The family saw the van backing out of the carport," said Sgt. C.D. Jessee, of the Virginia State Police, which was notified about 90 minutes after the escapes. "They were in the middle of loading it."

After a 15-minute chase with police on Interstate 81, Yelverton crashed the minivan and fled on foot into some woods, pursued by two dozen state police troopers, two helicopters, two canine units and a tactical unit.

As the state highway department erected signs warning motorists that a killer had escaped and urging them not to pick up hitchhikers, a helicopter pilot saw Yelverton running along railroad tracks. The inmate ducked into a barn as members of the state police canine unit went in after him. Yelverton surrendered without incident at 3:26 p.m.

Kinard and Yelverton were taken to Red Onion and are expected to be charged with escape, a felony. Yelverton also may be charged with auto theft.

The guards have not been disciplined, Johnson said. He added that "we have to see what really went down."

The escapes were the latest embarrassment for Nashville-based CCA, which has a multimillion-dollar contract to house hundreds of D.C. inmates at its privately run facilities in Ohio, Tennessee, Arizona and New Mexico.

D.C. Council member Harold Brazil (D-At Large), chairman of the council's Judiciary Committee, said he wants an "investigation to find out if someone was compromised. Someone messed up. We need to get at the bottom of this."

Last year, a federal report criticized CCA and the D.C. Department of Corrections for "irresponsibly" sending hundreds of inmates to an Ohio prison without properly separating the most dangerous ones from others. The move resulted in dozens of assaults and two homicides, the report said.

In March, a federal judge approved a $1.6 million settlement on behalf of D.C. inmates who filed a class-action suit alleging they were abused, denied adequate medical care and not properly separated from more dangerous inmates at CCA's Ohio facility.

CCA recently failed to persuade the D.C. Zoning Commission to rezone a 42-acre parcel in Ward 8 in Southwest Washington. The company had hoped to build a prison there for D.C. inmates.