Rex Solomon of rural McCook, who lives about a mile from the Nebraska Department of Corrections Work Ethic Camp, said area residents are not being properly notified when offenders walk away from the camp.
Two offenders absconded Saturday, Sept. 19, around 3:30 a.m. and were apprehended later that night in Akron, Colo. It marks the second time this month offenders have left the minimum security facility, the first occurring Sept. 10 when an offender who attempted to walk away was captured about 12 minutes later.
Stephen Kaiser, 20, sentenced from Douglas County on a Class IV forgery charge and Anthony Mattison, 21, sentenced from Hall County on a Class IV theft charge, were captured by Washington County, Colo., law personnel in Akron about 10 p.m., according to Washington County records. They were allegedly found driving a pick up that belonged to Solomon's son. Both are in custody at Akron and face Colorado charges.
The WEC is a minimum security facility just outside McCook city limits on U.S. Highway 83.
It accepts offenders who are sentenced to intensive supervised probation for a non-violent felony charge and inmates from Nebraska correctional facilities, who are released on parole after successfully completing the camp programs. Programs offered at the WEC include short-term substance abuse treatment, work detail crews and educational / vocational assistance.
Solomon said he had no idea offenders were missing when he and his son found the pickup gone about 3 p.m. He called the WEC, which confirmed that two offenders had been missing since early that morning and that local radio stations had been notified.
Solomon, who said he doesn't listen to the radio, learned later in the day that a neighbor's residence down the road had been burglarized sometime that morning, with pop, Doritos and a small amount of cash taken.
The Red Willow County Sheriff's Department confirmed that a burglary occured in that area sometime between 7:30 a.m., and 12:30 p.m., but did not release any details, citing the on-going investigation.
Solomon believed that the offenders hid in the cornfield near his property after the burglary, waited until his son came into the house after working on his pickup, then stole the vehicle.
"They couldn't have timed it any better, " he said. He's concerned as his teenage daughter was outside that afternoon, along with his wife, who was painting a shed. He's also dismayed with the $137 fee he had to pay to retrieve the damaged pickup in Akron.
"There has to be some accountability here," he contended.
There is a process to file claim to recover losses, said Barb Lewien, WEC warden, with claims made through the State Claims Board in Lincoln. She also said in a written statement that current security measures are sufficient to protect the public and meet the needs of the offender population.
"It is unfortunate that an individual or individuals exercised bad judgment and decision making in not fully taking advantage of the program opportunities made available to them. This, however, does not diminish the success of the program nor our commitment to helping low risk offenders be successful and in serving all Nebraskans, Programming that addresses substance abuse and educational deficits helps offenders return to the community to lead law-abiding lifestyles," she said in the written statement.
Strong efforts were made to notify as many people as possible, assisted by the Nebraska State Patrol, said Red Willow County Sheriff Gene Mahon, but law enforcement were limited in knowing where the offenders were heading.
"It would be hard to stop and notify every household while still investigating the situation," he said. "Our responsibility is to provide security while trying to catch these people." He added that a reverse 911 system would work well for situations like this, when automated phone calls are sent from a dispatch center to a block of phone numbers. Red Willow County does not have reverse 911 and is in the process with the city in applying for funds to get one, Mahon said.
Solomon has been in contact with the sheriff's office and the WEC and said he may file a lawsuit before he's satisfied. Although he believes in the WEC mission, the safety of his family comes first, he said.
"What's it going to take, a kidnap or assault, before something changes?" he asked.