Men described as members of Idaho prison gang appear in court on charges of hospital ambush and escape

Men described as members of Idaho prison gang appear in court on charges of hospital ambush and escape
Men described as members of Idaho prison gang appear in court on charges of hospital ambush and escape

BOISE, Idaho (AP) – Two men are accused of a a daring escape from prison and an ambush at an Idaho hospital that left three prison officers with gunshot wounds were arraigned in Boise on Monday.

Skylar Mead, the escaped inmate, and Nicholas Umphenor, an ex-convict who lived on the same block as Mead, are members of the same prison gang, white supremacist, according to police. The two are also suspected of killing two people in North Idaho, police say, although no charges have yet been filed in connection with the deaths.

The indictment focused on escape charges filed against the two men, as well as an additional three counts of aggravated felony battery on an officer and use of a deadly weapon in the commission of a felony filed against Umphenour. Prosecutors say he shot corrections officers Elijah Jackson, Daniel Lopez and Christopher Wilski as part of a plot to help Mead escape from custody. Two of the officers were wounded by the shots, according to police. A third officer was shot and wounded by an officer who opened fire after seeing an armed man near the hospital entrance.

The attack at the hospital early Wednesday morning was «essentially a pre-planned ambush-assisted escape,» Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Heather Riley told Magistrate Judge Michael Dean.

Dean agreed to keep bail for the two men at $2 million after prosecutors said they were a danger to the community and flight risks.

Officials say the case began when Mead injured himself at the jail last week and was transported to St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise for emergency treatment. Corrections officials were preparing to return Mead to the Idaho Maximum Security Institution several hours later, around 2 a.m., when police said Umphenor ambushed the hospital’s ambulance staff.

Police say two of the officers are shot from Umphenour and sustained serious injuries. A third corrections officer also suffered non-life-threatening injuries when the responding officer — mistakenly believing the shooter was still in the emergency room — opened fire. All three police officers were hospitalized with serious injuries. Idaho Department of Corrections spokeswoman Sanda Kuzeta-Cerimagic said Monday that two of the officers had been released and the third was expected to be released by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, police say Mead and Umphenor fled. While the search was underway, authorities discovered the bodies of two men in Clearwater County and Nez Perce County, which borders Washington State. Handcuffs were found at the scene of one of the murders, and Idaho State Police Lt. Col. Sheldon Kelly said that’s part of what leads investigators to believe Umphenor and Mead may be connected to the deaths. A vehicle belonging to one of the victims was spotted in Filler, an Idaho town roughly 400 miles (644 kilometers) to the south.

An FBI agent was monitoring the area where the vehicle was found, according to court documents, when he said he saw the suspects drive away in different cars. The agent and other law enforcement officers gave chase and both were arrested.

Police say both Mead and Umphenor are believed to be members of the same white supremacist prison gang, but authorities do not suspect the escape or other charges are related to gang activity.

Meade and Umphenour wore orange and yellow prison uniforms for their court appearances Monday, with Umphenour appearing on video from a jail conference room and Meade appearing on video from a jail cell. They did not have a chance to enter a plea, but preliminary hearings were scheduled for early next month.

Mead is represented by Ada County Public Defender Savannah Bell and Umphenor is represented by Ada County Public Defender Brian Marks. Neither attorney could be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

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Associated Press reporters Gene Johnson and Mark Thiessen contributed to this report.

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