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Former inmates not surprised murder suspects escaped from contractor

TUCSON – Two former prisoners said they were not surprised a private contractor let two murder suspects escape.

Pima County pays Security Transport Services to extradite inmates to the Tucson jail from all over the country.

Last week, the News Four Tucson Investigators reported STS was violating its contract by keeping poor records.

Blane and Susan Barksdale are suspected of murdering Frank Bligh and setting his Tucson home on fire in April. STS was transporting them from New York. They escaped near St. John’s, Arizona on Monday.

Thomas Bray said his ex-wife falsely accused him of a felony. His charges were dismissed with no chance of being filed again. STS extradited him from Texas.

“The security there was very minimal,” Bray said.

Josh does not want to reveal his full name. He was extradited from Florida on theft charges.

“It would have been very easy, had I have had that desire, to subdue a guard, knock them out, kick them over and take off into the woods,” Josh said. “That wouldn’t have been hard.”

STS has not responded to requests for comment since the escape.

The county uses STS to save money. The last time the sheriff’s department used its own employees to extradite an inmate was in July, and it cost almost $2,500, according to Deputy Daniel Jelineo.

Security Transport Services headquarter in Topeka, Kansas
Security Transport Services headquarters in Topeka, Kansas

Both former inmates said they were in shackles but had a fair amount of mobility. They were not attached to the vehicle.

“The 4 guards of that company that I saw, if someone really wanted to, they could get away,” Josh said.

Both men said they were transported by two guards carrying guns.

“They’re incredibly out of shape,” Bray said. “So they were not catching anyone if they had tried.”

The former inmates do not believe two people accused of extremely violent crimes should have been in the custody of a private contractor.

“Two people together,” Bray said. “It’s just a terrible idea.”

STS is based in Topeka, Kansas. In 2011, a prisoner stole an STS vehicle while a guard was in a convenience store, according to the Topeka NBC affiliate KSNT.

In 2006, two girls facing juvenile charges attacked an employee and stole a vehicle, according to KSNT.

In 2018, the county paid as little as $346.84 to transport a prisoner from Anthony, Texas. The most expensive transport was from Massachusetts, costing $3,137.12, according to public records obtained by the News Four Tucson Investigators.

The Governor’s Office wrote the extradition orders for the Barksdales, and they have the option to add notes or instructions, according to Jelineo.

“Our understanding is that the extradition orders did not have any specific instructions regarding the transfer of these two prisoners,” Jelineo stated in an email. “Ultimately, the decision lies with the company when there are no specific instructions within the orders. We will review this incident with STS.”

Pima County suspended its use of STS services while the escape is investigated.

The contract is not exclusive, so the county is allowed to find a new contractor through the county Procurement Department.

Sam Salzwedel

Sam Salzwedel

Sam Salzwedel is an investigative reporter at News 4 Tucson - KVOA.
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