ELIZABETH, N.J. – A Union County Jail guard who was named in a note left by two escapees has committed suicide, his lawyer said Wednesday.
Corrections Officer Rudolph Zurick was found dead at his home in Sayreville, Middlesex County, said the lawyer, Michael J. Mitzner. He said the officer was blameless in the breakout and faced no criminal charges.
Zurick, 40, was to be interviewed Wednesday by Union County Police for the first time since the daring Dec. 15 escape, Mitzner said.
Zurick had already submitted a report to the police and "had been cooperative throughout" the continuing investigation, Mitzner said.
Zurick's death was first reported on the Web site of The Star-Ledger of Newark.
Prisoners Otis Blunt and Jose Espinosa have been at large after burrowing through a cinderblock wall, jumping onto a roof and climbing over a 25-foot fence topped with barbed wire.
The inmates used photos of bikini-clad women to hide holes they used to escape and left behind a thank-you note for a guard they claimed helped them.
Authorities released the note last month, but obscured the officer's name. The note, signed with a smiley face, read, "Thank You Officer ... for the tools needed. You're a real Pal! Happy Holidays."
"Definitely sarcastic. There was no way he gave them any help," Mitzner said. "He was the one who had noticed they were missing."
"Everything I understand, he did nothing wrong," said the lawyer, who said he spoke to Zurick on Monday. "It's hard to know what goes through someone's head," Mitzner said.
Zurick left a wife and 4-year-old daughter.
Mitzner did not have the cause of death. Officials in Union and Middlesex counties did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Union County Police, overseen by the county prosecutor's office, are still investigating how the two men were able to escape from the unit considered most secure at the jail in Elizabeth. It was the first escape since the jail opened in 1986.
Authorities, however, already plan to install more surveillance cameras and razor wire, and add patrols.
Blunt, 32, of Toms River, was awaiting trial for robbery and weapons offenses. Espinosa, 20, of Elizabeth, was awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to manslaughter over a 2005 drive-by shooting in Elizabeth.
Espinosa is originally from Mexico and is in the country illegally, the Union County Prosecutor's Office has said.
Held in adjoining cells, Espinosa and Blunt used at least two improvised tools — a thick metal wire like those used to bind chain link fences to poles, and a 10-pound steel water shut-off wheel — to remove cinderblocks from the wall, Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow has said.
The shut-off wheel was used to crush the cinderblocks so they could be hidden in the cells, Romankow said. The inmates also laid out pillows and sheets to make it look like they were sleeping under blankets, he said.