Apprehended escapee faces 29 years in plea deal

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 14, 2013 

— An inmate who fled from the county's John Latorraca Correctional Center and subsequently led law enforcement in a high-speed pursuit pleaded guilty Thursday to numerous charges.

Prosecutors say Zachary William Johnson, 33, is facing a sentence of 29 years in prison as part of a plea agreement for a wide range of crimes.

Those include two counts of first-degree burglary, evading law enforcement and causing great bodily injury, possession of brass knuckles, driving a stolen vehicle and escaping from a correctional facility.

Deputy District Attorney Travis Colby said the defendant is someone who's "made a lot of poor choices" in his life. "This was a one-man crime wave that's been brought to an end by him going to prison," Colby said.

According to Merced County sheriff's deputies, on Feb. 14, 2012, Johnson escaped through a hole in the ceiling in the jail's shower area.

After getting onto the roof, he threw a blanket over the razor-wire fencing and climbed out. With help from a girlfriend, Johnson took a taxi to get to the Los Banos area.

Johnson was able to get money and another taxi. Sheriff's deputies spotted the taxi in the Santa Nella area.

The taxi driver got out of the car, and Johnson got behind the wheel, leading law enforcement on a chase for more than 39 miles into Santa Clara County, according to deputies.

California Highway Patrol officers put down a spike strip on Highway 152, stopping the taxi.

Johnson ran into a poultry building near Gilroy Premium Outlets, but later came out and surrendered.

The month before he escaped from the John Latorraca Correctional Center, Johnson had been involved in a vehicle pursuit with Los Banos police.

The pursuit ended after he crashed the stolen car he was driving into another vehicle. A passenger in the other car, a 3-year-old girl, suffered a broken collarbone and a concussion, Colby said.

Johnson fled on foot after the pursuit with Los Banos police and tried to hide inside a trash bin, but was captured by officers.

Johnson is scheduled to be formally sentenced to prison on May 3. He must complete at least 85 percent of his sentence before he's eligible for parole.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at

(209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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