Police shot and killed a state prison inmate in a Prince George's County cemetery yesterday, hours after he overpowered four correctional officers and escaped from Laurel Regional Hospital, shot a motorist in the parking lot and commandeered the driver's car.
Kelvin D. Poke, 45, who was serving a life sentence for violent crimes that included kidnapping, fled from the hospital after shooting off his leg shackles, prompting a lockdown of area schools and triggering a daylong manhunt involving hundreds of police officers from across the region.
The pursuit ended when Poke, after carjacking a second vehicle, fired at Prince George's County police.
His escape took place at the same hospital where, in November, a suspect undergoing tests overpowered a state trooper, took her gun, shot at her and eluded police for five hours before being recaptured. It came nearly two years after an inmate grabbed a gun from a correctional officer guarding him at a Hagerstown hospital, then shot and killed him.
"Correctional officers will tell you, inmates - some of them 24 hours a day - look for ways to escape the system, and it's a challenge [officers] face every day," said Greg Shipley, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police.
Union officials questioned the policy that requires corrections officers to carry guns when escorting inmates to hospitals for medical treatment, saying yesterday that it puts officers at risk. The officers do not carry guns inside prisons.
"Our position is and has been that the officers shouldn't be carrying guns into the hospitals," said Patrick Moran, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92, a union that represents correctional officers.
Poke was admitted to the Laurel hospital Monday after complaining of chest pains. He was on the hospital's fourth floor at 8:15 a.m. yesterday when he disarmed a corrections officer and took his gun, Shipley said. A team of correctional officers at the hospital with a second inmate quickly responded, but Poke disarmed one of them as well, Shipley said.
James Graham, 54, of Waldorf, said his wife was being examined for heart problems when a nurse locked the door to the room, saying that a man had taken hostages and that the hospital was under lockdown.
Armed with two .38-caliber pistols, Poke forced a hospital security guard down two flights of stairs. William A. Grimes, vice president of support services at Laurel Regional, said the guard told him that Poke demanded that he show him how to get out.
The guard "has worked security for us for a number of years, and he's used to dealing with crisis situations," Grimes said. "But this one did shake him."
Wearing jeans and no shirt, Poke fled the building, then fired into a blue Toyota Camry, hitting the 51-year-old driver in the head, and escaped in the car.
Shipley said the victim was listed in good condition at the hospital last night and that his wounds were not considered life-threatening. The man was not immediately identified.
The car was found abandoned and on fire just before 1 p.m. in the 1100 block of First St. NW in Washington. Washington Metropolitan Police received a report of a white Ford Explorer stolen at gunpoint from the same block. The SUV was a government vehicle from the district's Department of Transportation, said Dena Iverson, a spokeswoman for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, and police said the employee was left at the scene.
Prince George's County police officers spotted the SUV, which had flat tires, parked at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Suitland, just outside the district, about 3:15 p.m., said spokesman Cpl. Clinton Copeland. Police said Poke opened fire on approaching officers, who shot back and hit him.
Copeland said a woman in the SUV with Poke was taken to a local hospital for treatment of minor injuries. It was not clear whether she was an accomplice or had been kidnapped.
While Poke was on the loose, Prince George's County school officials locked down six Laurel-area schools, forbidding students and staff from leaving or entering. Students at Brock Bridge Elementary School, just over the county line in Anne Arundel, spent recess indoors as a precaution, and alerts went out to some Howard County schools.
Though entrances were blocked, hospital business continued as a gaggle of media set up on an embankment across the street and two helicopters circled overhead.
"It's unfortunate that such an incident occurred, and what we're really trying to do is assist or aid in the recovery of our staff," said Shervon Yancey, a public relations specialist for Laurel Regional, who said counseling was being offered.
Poke had a history of violent crimes when a Prince George's County judge sentenced him in August 2006 to life plus 40 years at the Jessup Correctional Institution for carjacking, robbery and assault. According to court documents, Poke approached a 22-year-old woman in the parking lot of a Hyattsville apartment complex and forced her into the front seat. He put his hands around her neck and demanded cash, taking $500 before letting her out 20 minutes later in Northeast Washington. He was found with the vehicle two days later.
This week, officials said, Poke was being treated in an unsecured area in the Laurel hospital. Two guards were assigned to him - an unarmed officer who kept close contact and an armed officer in visual contact, said Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Two more officers kept watch over another inmate nearby. It was unclear how Poke was able to get the officers' weapons.
Correctional officers get weapons training, but "the fact of the matter is, you are in a confined area and all sorts of things can happen," said Moran, the union president. He said that's why guards do not carry guns inside prisons, though they have them in guard towers.
Moran said state corrections officials need to re-examine their arrangements with medical facilities. He said hospitals in Baltimore have police on duty and more secured areas for the treatment of prisoners than in Laurel.
Binetti said the state will be reviewing policies and procedures but had no immediate plans to make changes.
Sun reporters Nicole Fuller, Greg Garland and Ruma Kumar contributed to this article.