New details emerged in how Mexican Mafia associate Gonzalo Lopez escaped from a prison bus before going on the lam for three weeks and allegedly murdering a Texas rancher and his four grandsons.
Lopez eventually died in a shootout with law enforcement near San Antonio, but state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, revealed new information to KXXV Wednesday on how the convicted murderer serving two life sentences is believed to have escaped from a prison bus traveling near rural Centerville.
Whitmire said some of the other 16 inmates aboard the bus could face criminal charges after they allegedly "started making a disturbance, singing and jumping up and down," distracting officers as Lopez was releasing his restraints and "breaking out of the little cage he was in," Whitmire said.
Lopez allegedly told the other inmates he was going to escape and "this is your opportunity" too, Whitmire said. The state’s most senior senator claimed that Lopez used the same key to release his restraints and open a caged door to the front of the bus, where he stabbed the driver.
"Same key for both, I understand," Whitmire told KXXV.
That information seemed to slightly contradict what the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has previously said about Lopez using a makeshift knife to cut through the caged door to get to the driver.
Whitmire said the key has not been recovered during the investigation.
"Lopez was the worst of the worst," Whitmire said, adding that there were "huge mistakes made."
There are some 2,000 inmates who travel on the roads of Texas each day – half for medical-related reasons, according to Whitmire. Texas has 98 prisons and 120,000 inmates.
TDCJ spokesman Robert Hurst told KXXV Wednesday that "there is an assumption" that Lopez used "some kind of sharp object to cut through the bus door" after using a "key to get out of his handcuffs."
Hurst, though, said "no evidence to this effect has been recovered either on the bus or during the search for him," pointing to a photo of the damaged caged door.
Hurst said no one has been placed on leave following the incident, though one officer aboard the bus at the time of the escape is taking leave after requesting it and the second officer is back to work.
This comes after TDCJ revealed Tuesday that DNA evidence recovered from a burglarized cabin next door to the home where a murdered Texas rancher and his four grandsons were staying for a weekend hunting and fishing trip came back as a positive match for Lopez, KHOU reported.
The DNA was collected from the cabin two days before Mark Collins and four of his grandsons – brothers Waylon Collins, 18, Carson Collins, 16, Hudson Collins, 11, and their cousin, Bryson Collins, 11 – were found stabbed to death. Neighbors expressed outrage, arguing that Collins would not have brought his family to their weekend home if they had known Lopez was in the area sooner, but investigators said the DNA did not come back as a positive match until after the family was believed to have been killed.
Lopez is believed to have stolen firearms and made off with the family's truck. Authorities eventually caught up to him, and he was shot and killed by law enforcement June 2.