Lake County, Ind., sheriff questions how murder suspect Leon Taylor escaped custody in Gary after video released

McDonalds surveillance video showing escape calls transport driver's account into question, sheriff says

ByJessica D'Onofrio and Alexis McAdams WLS logo
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
Lake County, Ind., sheriff questions how murder suspect Leon Taylor escaped custody in Gary after video released
The transport company's story of how Leon Taylor escaped is contradicted by newly released surveillance video.

GARY, Ind. (WLS) -- A murder suspect who escaped from a prisoner van Monday in Gary remains on the loose for a third day.

Leon Taylor, 22, reportedly escaped from a transport van about 3 p.m. at a McDonalds around 35th and Grant streets in Gary while being extradited from Texas, the Lake County, Indiana, sheriff's office said.

An agent from REDI Transports of Wisconsin was supposed to drive Taylor to the jail, but said he stopped to get something to eat. He said he briefly opened up the back window of the car, which is when Taylor somehow climbed out the window and ran off.

The Lake County sheriff is questioning that account, however, after reviewing surveillance video of the escape from the McDonalds.

"After watching this video, I am highly disturbed and disappointed by the procedures the private transportation driver used during the transfer of this suspect to our jail," said Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr.

In a statement, the sheriff says Taylor can be seen struggling with his leg brace and does not appear to be wearing shackles.

"We also believe the suspect may have been manipulating his leg brace during the trip and was apparently continuing to disable the device when he exited the SUV," the sheriff said.

Martinez also said while the REDI Transport van driver told them Taylor escaped through a window, "the video clearly shows him exiting through a door to the vehicle."

Police initially said Taylor was wearing a belly chain, handcuffs and a leg brace when he got away. He suspected of shooting and killing 52-year-old Daniel Nitzche in East Chicago.

Police say in November, Taylor robbed the husband and father, then shot him in the 700-block of West 150th Street.

Taylor has a long rap sheet, and has been charged in more than a half a dozen armed robberies, according to court documents. He is known to visit Gary, East Chicago and Hammond.

"Right now he knows what he's charged with. He knows that he's charged with murder, so he has nothing to lose. He's out right now on the streets loose," East Chicago Police Deputy Chief Jose Rivera said. "We were looking forward to interviewing him on the murder that happened here. I can honestly say I'm surprised and disappointed on the outcome because our detectives worked very hard on this case."

Police said Taylor had just gotten off his ankle monitor when he allegedly committed the murder.

He also has a previous escape charge from 2016.

REDI Transports said they have worked with the Lake County Sheriff's Department since October. They released a statement, saying, "REDI Transports continues to cooperate fully with those investigating the prisoner escape that occurred yesterday afternoon in Gary, Indiana. We are also conducting our own internal investigation into what happened and are determining what procedural or process changes may be needed to ensure this does not happen again."

Taylor is 6 feet tall, 162 pounds with hazel eyes and brown hair. He was last seen wearing a gray hoodie, black Puma tennis shoes, black jeans and a belly chain with handcuffs, the sheriff's office said.

He is considered to be dangerous, the sheriff's office said. East Chicago police said Taylor is likely getting help from someone on the run.

Anyone with information is asked to call 911.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.