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Fugitive inmate slain in shootout

- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008

A prisoner serving a life sentence overpowered four guards at Laurel Regional Hospital yesterday, then went on a rampage, shooting a motorist, stealing vehicles and taking hostages before being killed in a shootout with police.

The seven-hour ordeal began at about 8:15 a.m. at the hospital, where Jessup Correctional Institution prisoner Kelvin Poke, 45, was admitted after complaining about chest pains. Police said he was accompanied by two armed prison guards.

Poke, standing 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighing 235 pounds, was wearing leg shackles but not handcuffs on the hospital's fourth floor, when he managed to overpower four prison guards and took two guns from them, apparently dumping one before fleeing, police said.

Poke fired at his shackles inside the hospital and then overpowered a hospital security guard who responded to the noise, authorities said. He held the guard hostage as he made his way to the lobby, then fled alone. He was wearing his Department of Corrections-issued jeans and socks, but no shirt and no shoes, state police spokesman Greg Shipley said.

Poke released the guard upon spotting a 1993 Toyota Camry in the hospital parking lot. "He ... saw that driver sitting behind the wheel, released the security guard and immediately went to the Camry," Mr. Shipley said.

Police said Poke fired a shot into the vehicle window, hitting the driver in the head. The vehicle belonged to a relative of a hospital employee. The 51-year-old driver, whom Poke pulled from the vehicle, was listed in good condition at the hospital.

Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said nothing indicated that the guards failed to follow proper procedure.

"There's no reason to think anything was amiss," he said.

Poke led a manhunt of police, helicopters and dogs into the District, where police found the Camry on fire — but no Poke — at about 1 p.m. near First and Pierce streets Northwest.

Poke somehow stole a second vehicle, a 2005 Ford Explorer, which police spotted with two flat tires at about 3:15 p.m. in Suitland.

Prince George's County Police Chief Melvin C. High said Poke led officers into Cedar Hill Cemetery, in the 4100 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, where he got out of the Explorer and started shooting at officers, who returned fire and killed him.

Poke was taken to Prince George's Hospital Center and pronounced dead at 4:18 p.m., said Suzanne Almalel, a spokeswoman for Dimensions Healthcare System.

A woman was in the Explorer during the shootout, Chief High said. Investigators said she was injured slightly but were not certain whether she was a hostage and did not release her name.

Mr. Shipley said the search for Poke involved "hundreds of police officers" from the state, Prince George's County and at least one federal agency, as well as helicopters and dogs.

Poke was sentenced in Prince George's County Circuit Court in 2006, and he was serving life plus 40 years in Jessup.

During the manhunt, the hospital and three nearby schools — Laurel High, Deerfield Elementary and James Harrison Elementary — were locked down.

Another prisoner escaped from the hospital less than two months ago. On Nov. 13, Kamara Mohamed, of Oxon Hill, attempted to take a gun from the female corrections officer guarding him. The charges against Mohamed, 39, include attempted first-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault and disarming a law-enforcement officer. Mohamed, who was facing auto-theft charges, was captured at a construction site about three hours later.

Investigators are "thoroughly reviewing every element of today's terrible incident to determine what if anything could have been done — or could be done in the future — to prevent this from happening," Mr. Vernarelli said.

The most recent available statistics from the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services show one escape and 123 "walk-offs" — inmates who left a work site outside prison gates — in fiscal 2007 that ended June 30. That was down from two escapes and 189 walk-offs in 2006, and three escapes and 165 walk-offs in 2005.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.