Man Who Escaped From Prison In Fire Engine Detained

Thomas Francis Kelley Arrested At Trolley Station In Lemon Grove

An inmate who allegedly stole a fire engine to escape from Donovan State Prison on New Year's Day was captured late Tuesday morning at an East County trolley depot.

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Deputies spotted Thomas Francis Kelly, 51, smoking with a companion at the transit station in the 1700 block of San Altos Place in Lemon Grove shortly before 9:30 a.m., sheriff's Sgt. Chris Steffen said.

Realizing that one of the loitering men matched the escapee's description, the patrol personnel approached him and asked him for his name. Kelly was evasive, but the deputies were able to identify him by a mug shot they were carrying, and he then admitted to his identity, according to Steffen.

Kelly surrendered without incident and was turned over to state parole agents. His companion, who said he'd just met Kelly, was questioned and released.

"He was very calm, very cooperative. Initially, he was giving a false name and date of birth. Again, through the photo identification … once he knew we had the photo of him, he admitted it was him," Steffen said.

Kelly, a minimum-security inmate serving time for a parole violation stemming from a 2008 auto-theft conviction, was reported missing during a head count about 9:30 p.m. Sunday, according to Lt. Patrick Logan, a spokesman for the state corrections system. Prison guards said Kelley, a member of a prison firefighting crew at the Otay Mesa penitentiary, went missing shortly before sheriff's personnel saw a fire engine being driven erratically through Spring Valley.

The emergency vehicle later was found abandoned outside a 7-Eleven store at Jamacha Road and Elkelton Boulevard, Gilmore said.

"The only thing he said ... the reason he did what he did [was] he was trying to see his daughter. [We] couldn't find her and he has been homeless, sleeping out wherever he could for the past several days," said Steffen.

Prior to the escape, Kelly had been scheduled for release in December 2013, Logan said.

Teresa Bailey, who lives near the trolley station, told 10News, "I'm a big door-locker. Always lock my car, lock my doors. But it is very scary that somebody was that close to us in the neighborhood."

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