- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

KANKAKEE, Ill. (AP) - Law enforcement officers armed with rifles on Thursday searched homes in eastern Illinois for a convicted murderer on the run, as the sheriff overseeing the manhunt linked his escape to budget and jail staffing cuts.

Officers have searched around 50 residences and fanned out across Kankakee County in the hunt for Kamron T. Taylor, 23, who escaped from the Jerome Combs Detention Center early Wednesday. Taylor had been awaiting sentencing for shooting a man in the head during a botched robbery.

County Sheriff Timothy Bukowski said investigators were also considering the possibility that Taylor could have fled elsewhere.

Bukowski told reporters that the detention center has lost between 15 and 20 percent of its staff, forcing guards to work extra hours in a change that he said did not go unnoticed by the 450 inmates.

Asked whether he thought staffing at the jail was adequate, Bukowski told reporters he would like to see the levels that pre-dated the budget cuts, acknowledging that guards working overtime “get tired and they start to make mistakes.”

“The inmates could see them working a double shift and see that they were tired,” he said. “So all those factors contribute to what’s going on.”

He said budget cuts also got in the way of planned security enhancements, but he refused to go into specifics on that or precise staffing numbers, saying “the inmates already know too much.”

Taylor got out of his cell and lay in wait for a guard making the 3 a.m. Wednesday rounds. Surveillance video shows Taylor beating the guard unconscious and taking his keys and uniform. Wearing the guard’s jacket, emblazoned with an officer’s badge, he was able to fool other jail staff in a remote master control room who opened three sets of doors for him after visual verification by camera.

Taylor found the guard’s SUV and drove off, abandoning the vehicle in a residential area a few miles away.

During the first few hours of the manhunt, authorities had feared that a 15-year-old girl reported missing around the same time might have been with Taylor, but she was found Wednesday afternoon. She lives in the same area where the SUV was found ditched, but Bukowski said that was coincidental and she was never with Taylor.

“We additionally remind the public that this man is very, very dangerous,” the sheriff said. “We know that he has a weapon and we know that he will not hesitate to use it.”

Based partly on an analysis of his phone conversations and jail visitation records, investigators are working on the assumption that someone is helping Taylor evade capture.

“We have to believe … someone is helping him, concealing him,” Bukowski said. “We will prosecute those people.”

He appealed for the public’s help. A $5,000 reward is being offered for information leading to Taylor’s arrest.

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