Escaped inmate killed in police shootout

January 2, 2008 6:26:20 PM PST
Shirtless and shoeless, inmate Kelvin Poke dashed into the bitter cold and toward freedom.

He overpowered five guards at the hospital where he was staying Wednesday, managing to grab two guns and shoot off his shackles before fleeing. Hijacking two cars, he stayed ahead of the police who were tracking him on a manhunt that spanned suburban Maryland and Washington, D.C.

Seven hours later, he traded freedom for his life. Cornered in a cemetery where police spotted him emerging from one of the stolen vehicles, he was killed in a shootout.

Poke's escape followed another high-profile escape from the same hospital - Laurel Regional Hospital in Prince George's County. In November, a prisoner fled from there after taking a state trooper's gun and firing shots. He was captured hours later following an intensive search.

Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said nothing indicates the guards failed to follow procedure in the Poke case.

"There's no reason to think anything was amiss," Vernarelli said.

Poke had been sentenced to life plus 40 years for kidnapping and other crimes in 2006. He was taken to Laurel on Monday after complaining of chest pains. He was wearing leg shackles but not handcuffs Wednesday morning when he somehow overpowered four prison guards and took two guns from them, apparently dumping one before fleeing, police said.

Poke, wearing nothing but prison jeans and white socks, fired at his shackles inside the hospital and then overpowered a hospital security guard who responded to the noise, authorities said. He held the guard hostage as he made his way to the lobby, then fled alone.

Once outside, Poke shot out the window of a car, hitting the driver, who was expected to survive, Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said. In northeast Washington, police found the car, a Toyota Camry, on fire - but no Poke. The prisoner had carjacked the Ford Explorer and was on the run again.

After a call from a citizen, police spotted the suspicious vehicle - a white Ford Explorer with government tags and flat tires - and followed it into a cemetery shortly after 3 p.m. Poke then got out of the vehicle and opened fire on police, who then shot back, police said.

Poke was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead, said Major Joseph McCann of Prince George's County police.

A woman had been in the Explorer with Poke, and she was being treated for minor injuries, authorities said. Police believe she did not go with him willingly.

Access to the hospital was limited Wednesday, but it remained open, Shipley said. Three schools were locked down as authorities hunted for Poke.