HIALEAH (CBSMiami) – A state prison inmate so close to freedom that he was allowed to work outside the walls of one of the state’s most minimum security prisons faces years longer at hard time, after he escaped briefly Tuesday, touching off a 90 minute manhunt.
Juan Preval, more than half way through a 9 year sentence for a Broward burglary and resisting arrest, had been sent to the state’s minimum-security Opa-Locka Work Release Center, the state’s lowest security prison where the inmates are not locked in. Inmates work in the community during the day, returning to the work release center to sleep.
According to the Florida Department of Corrections, Preval was found to have contraband, which is a one-way ticket back to a higher security prison cell. Tuesday morning, he was handcuffed and shackled for his trip when he apparently decided he wasn’t ready to leave, and walked out of the center.
When he was discovered missing, prison officials started a full-scale manhunt with the help of Hialeah police and other agencies. K-9 units from police agencies and the corrections department were brought in to search the area around the center, which is near Opa-Locka airport.
CBS4′s Peter D’Oench spoke with some neighbors who were very worried about the entire situation.
“It’s very scary to think that something like this could happen so close to us,” said Amalie Gonzalez. “Anything could have happend by him escaping. we don’t know how dangerous he is or what he was sentenced for. It was really shocking and there were cop cars all around. They just walked into our office and told us there as an escaped prisoner. It was scary.”
“We were very scared,” said Talia Turnbull. “The police came in and knocked on the door and they wanted to let us know that a prisoner had escaped. We locked our doors to the pet pharmacy and they searched all the rooms to make sure no one was hiding in the warehouse or office.”
Helicopters joined in the search, and for a time parts of the nearby Gratigny Express were shut down.
About 90 minutes into the search, a K-9 team from the South Florida Reception Center found Preval, about half a mile from the Work Release Center, laying on the bank of a canal.
Preval was arrested by Miami-Dade police and will be charged with escape, a charge likely to extend his stay was a guest of the state.
No matter how long he serves, however, he will never again get the chance to take part in the work-release program. Corrections officials say Preval’s escape makes him permanently ineligible.
Preval was doing time for a 2004 burglary in Broward, and has been in prison since July, 2005.
State corrections spokeswoman Anne Howard said there had been a number of escapes from the facility, but that it doesn’t happen that often. She said inmates realize if they do walk away; it’s likely they will be captured and lose all their prviliges.
Howard said there wouldn’t be any stepped up security as a result of Monday’s incident.