KANKAKEE – A man awaiting sentencing for murder escaped from a jail in eastern Illinois Wednesday after beating a guard into unconsciousness, taking his keys and uniform and speeding off in his SUV.
Kamron T. Taylor, who has a history of escape attempts, fled from the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee at about 3 a.m. He somehow escaped from his cell, hid inside the facility, then beat and choked the guard who was making rounds, said Kankakee County Sheriff Timothy Bukowski.
Taylor, a 23-year-old from Kankakee, is considered armed and dangerous, the sheriff said. He was convicted of first-degree murder in February and faces a sentence of 45 years to life in prison.
Besides hunting him down, investigators were eager to determine how Taylor got free in what was the first successful escape from the decade-old lockup housing about 450 detainees.
"The speculation on my part is somebody didn't do their job properly," Bukowski said.
After getting free of his two-man cell in a lockdown unit, Taylor hid out and attacked the guard, a military veteran with 10 years of correctional experience, Bukowski said.
By wearing the guard's uniform, Taylor was able to fool other guards in a master control room who opened three sets of doors for him after visual verification by surveillance video, Bukowski said.
Once outside, the suspect repeatedly pressed the guard's key fob to locate his Chevrolet Equinox in a parking lot and drive away.
Authorities didn't learn of the escape until about 30 minutes later, when jail staff found the wounded officer, who is hospitalized in intensive care with head wounds.
"He was in and out of consciousness, unable to understand the questions that were given to him," Bukowski said of the guard at a news conference.
A few hours after sunrise, officers found the abandoned SUV in a residential area of Kankakee and approached the vehicle with their guns drawn. But Taylor was nowhere to be found and it wasn't clear whether he fled on foot or someone picked him up in another vehicle, the sheriff said.
At one point Wednesday, authorities issued an alert for a 15-year-old girl who they believed was with Taylor. Illinois State Police later announced the girl had been found, but did not say where or how officials found her or whether she had been with Taylor.
Jail staffing levels and procedures will be re-examined, but Bukowski said Taylor's history of violence and previous escape attempts didn't necessarily single him out for stricter security measures.
"It raises an alert, I guess," he said. "But you figure the people that are locked up in our facility aren't altar boys and you take certain precautions for all of them. And you can't become complacent with anybody ... especially a murderer."
During his trial in February, Taylor tried to escape from the courthouse minutes after hearing the guilty verdict. Several sheriff's deputies and bailiffs wrestled him to the ground, and Taylor shouted expletives at the gallery as they led him away, according to a report in The Kankakee Daily Journal.
He also escaped briefly after his arrest in 2013 but was detained several blocks away, the newspaper reported at the time.
Taylor was found guilty of the June 2013 shooting death of 21-year-old Nelson Williams Jr. during a botched robbery at Williams' home in Kankakee. Online court records show his sentencing is scheduled for May 11.