IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - An inmate from Iowa with a history of violence toward guards and one notorious escape has died in a Wisconsin prison one month after he was transferred there, authorities said Thursday.
Justin Kestner, 26, was found unresponsive Dec. 21 in his assigned cell at the Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun, Wisconsin, the Iowa Department of Corrections said in a statement. Prison staff responded and initiated lifesaving measures that were unsuccessful.
Prison officials and the Dodge County sheriff said Thursday that they are investigating the death, and that no additional information on the suspected cause or manner was available. A medical examiner said autopsy results haven’t been completed.
Kestner made headlines on July 4, 2015, when he became the first inmate in a decade to escape from Iowa’s historic maximum-security prison in Fort Madison. An investigation found that he removed screws from the shower to gain access to a narrow pipe chase - an enclosed space that houses the prison’s pipes. He was able to climb up until he reached the attic, then crawled through a vent to reach the roof.
He descended by climbing down the building’s downspout and landing outside a prison fence. He timed his escape to coincide with holiday fireworks in the hopes that guards would be distracted, and left in his bed a dummy made up of milk cartons and insulation to try to fool them into thinking he was sleeping. Kestner stole a car after his escape but was captured within hours near Geneseo, Illinois.
Kestner was serving time for robbing gas stations in Sioux City, Iowa, in 2009. A judge in February extended his original 20-year sentence by 15 years after Kestner pleaded guilty to the escape and vehicle theft.
Sometime after the escape, Kestner was transferred to the penitentiary in Anamosa, Iowa. In October, authorities said that Kestner managed to get out of a health services room before he assaulted a correctional officer with a crude piece of metal. The officer suffered multiple contusions to the face that required medical treatment.
Kestner, who had previously attacked guards in Fort Madison, was placed in segregation after that incident. On Nov. 21, he was transferred to Wisconsin through the Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision, which governs the movement of offenders from state to state.
Dodge Correctional is Wisconsin’s intake facility for all new inmates, who are later assigned to specific prisons. Wisconsin Department of Corrections spokesman Tristan Cook said the agency is conducting an internal investigation into the death.
Iowa prisons spokesman Fred Scaletta said it took several days to announce the death because authorities in Iowa and Wisconsin needed to work together to notify Kestner’s family and victims.
Funeral services were held Tuesday for Kestner in his hometown of Rembrandt, Iowa, a small town near Sioux City.
Kestner, who graduated from Midland Park High School in 2007, was “a very passionate young man and his special interests include his love for others, drawing, being outdoors and animals,” according to an obituary published in the Storm Lake Times newspaper. The obituary said he died unexpectedly and will be buried at a later date.
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