Relatives Of Oklahomans Murdered By Escaped Convicts Proceed With Lawsuit

Thursday, October 28th 2010, 12:59 pm
By: News On 6

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Relatives of an Oklahoma couple allegedly slain by two escaped prisoners from Arizona and an accomplice are seeking $40 million in damages, according to notice of claim letters the family's attorney said have been mailed to Arizona Gov.

Jan Brewer and other officials in that state. Letters sent Wednesday by attorneys for the relatives of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh allege their Aug. 2 deaths in New Mexico were the result of "a long series of egregious errors and omissions of gross negligence" by the Arizona Department of Corrections and officials at the Arizona State Prison at Kingman, where the inmates escaped on July 30.

The letters allege Arizona corrections officials and the prison's private operator, Utah-based Management and Training Corp., "set the stage for and permitted the careless and slipshod security environment" at the prison that allowed the inmates to escape and allegedly kidnap and kill the victims.

MTC is liable for punitive damages in the case, according to notice of claim letters sent to company officials.

10/26/2010 Related Story: Judge Signs Extradition Order for Arizona Inmates

The notice of claim letters were mailed on behalf of the Haases' daughter, Cathy Byus, and the mother, sister and two brothers of Linda Haas. Their attorney, Jacob Diesselhorst, said Thursday the claim letters are required before a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed against the state. Diesselhorst said Arizona officials have 60 days to respond.

A spokesman for Brewer, Paul Senseman, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. A spokesman for MTC, Carl Stuart, said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Escaped prisoners Tracy Province, 42, and John McCluskey, 45, and McCluskey's fiancee and cousin, Casslyn Welch, 44, are charged with capital murder and carjacking in the victim's deaths. All three are being held in Arizona and have not entered pleas to the state charges in New Mexico.

Authorities have said Welch helped McCluskey, Province and inmate Daniel Renwick, 37, escape from the medium-security prison in Kingman by throwing wire cutters over a fence.

The escape sparked a nationwide hunt, and all four were recaptured within three weeks. Renwick was arrested on Aug. 1 in Colorado and is not accused in the killings.

New Mexico prosecutors have said Province, McCluskey and Welch targeted the Haases at an Interstate 40 rest stop because they had grown weary of traveling and sleeping in their car and wanted the couple's camping trailer. Authorities said the Haases were taken to a remote ranch near Colonias, N.M., where they were shot and the trailer was set on fire. The Haases, both 61, were traveling to Pagosa Springs, Colo., for a camping trip.

Their relatives allege that prison officials in Arizona did not adequately supervise the facility, did not adequately train prison workers, did not assure MTC had an adequately trained security staff and failed to ensure the prison met security requirements "before transferring violent and dangerous offenders" there.

They also allege prison officials ignored ongoing problems with its perimeter security alarm system and that the system had not been checked or calibrated for more than two years before the escapes.

"The state of Arizona failed to protect the safety of the public," Diesselhorst said. "The state of Arizona cannot avoid it's overriding duty to protect public safety by outsourcing prisons to a private, for-profit company."