Marshal says fugitives had hours-long lead on authorities

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PHOENIX (AP) — Two fugitives being transported across the country to face murder charges overpowered two security guards, tied them up and got a head start of several hours before anyone knew they escaped, authorities said Thursday.

The husband and wife were still at-large three days after their daring escape along a remote Utah highway, as they were being taken from upstate New York to Arizona to face murder charges.

David Gonzales, the U.S. marshal for Arizona, said in an interview with Phoenix radio station KTAR-FM that Blane and Susan Barksdale were being transported through Blanding, Utah, when they somehow overpowered the guards from a private prisoner transport company. He said the guards were tied up and the couple fled with them in the van to St. Johns, Arizona.

From there, the Barksdales got a red GMC pickup truck from “an acquaintance” and fled on their own. The circumstances of how they acquired the vehicle and who the acquaintance is were not clear.

Meanwhile, it took the guards two to three hours to break free, eventually kicking out some windows.

“They left them out in the middle of nowhere,” Gonzales said.

By the time a local sheriff’s deputy reached the area and began investigating, the Barksdales had been gone for eight hours, Gonzales said.

The Barksdales were arrested May 24 near Rochester, New York, on suspicion of first-degree murder and other crimes related to the April death of a 72-year-old man in Tucson.

Gonzales said multiple agencies including the FBI and Tucson police are interviewing people from Arizona to New York. The Marshals Service on Wednesday offered a $20,000 reward — $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of each fugitive.

“In any crime or situation like this, somebody knows something. Sometimes a reward can be that little push to make a call to us,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales also noted Blane Barksdale has a criminal history. He served two prison terms, according to online records. He spent nearly eight years in Arizona prisons for theft and drug convictions dating to 1984. He was released in January 1993.

Barksdale also was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a 2003 federal marijuana possession convictions in Taylor County, Kentucky, and was released in early 2012, according to records.

In a letter to the judge in the Kentucky case, Barksdale said he was thankful that he didn’t receive a stiffer sentence. “I sir, will not ever make you regret giving us this second chance either,” Barksdale said in the handwritten letter.

After his release he married Susan Barksdale in December 2013 in Pima County, Arizona.

Officials in Pima County announced Wednesday that they were suspending use of the transport company, Security Transport Services, pending a review of the escape. A spokeswoman at the Topeka, Kansas-based company did not immediately return a message seeking comment Thursday.

___

This story has been changed to correct the spelling of David Gonzales’ last name from Gonzalez.

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