Inmate escapes from Merced County jail

12/16/2013 5:47 PM

12/29/2013 9:42 PM

An inmate with a violent history escaped early Monday from the John Latorraca Correctional Facility in Merced.

Jason Grant Hunwardsen, 32, apparently climbed out of his cell through the ceiling and disappeared, Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin confirmed.

The sheriff said Hunwardsen should be considered dangerous.

Pazin said correctional officers noticed Hunwardsen was missing about 3 a.m. It was not clear when he was last seen.

“How they get through barbed and razor wire is beyond me,” Pazin commented, “but when they are spurred on to get out, nothing’s going to prevent them except hardened concrete.”

Pazin said the Latorraca facility “was never built to house sophisticated long-term inmates.”

“That’s why it’s heartbreaking that we didn’t get the $40 million from the (the Board of State and Community Corrections) last week,” Pazin said.

On Thursday, Merced County was denied state funding that would have paved the way for a new jail facility and helped shutter the 45-year-old Latorraca facility.

The sheriff said he believes investigators are “hot on this guy’s heals.”

Hunwardsen has a long criminal history in Merced County, dating back to at least 2002, according to Merced County Superior Court records.

He was convicted Dec. 6 by a Merced County jury of felony counts of inflicting corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant by a repeat offender and making criminal threats with a knife, according to court records.

Livingston police arrested Hunwardsen on Aug. 8 in connection with an incident of domestic violence, authorities said.

Judge Marc A. Garcia had scheduled Hunwardsen to appear again Dec. 19 for sentencing. Hunwardsen faces more than 20 years in state prison, authorities said.

His criminal record includes convictions for vandalism and vehicle theft in 2002, resisting arrest in 2004 and assault with a deadly weapon in 2007, according to court records.

Deputies described Hunwardsen as 6 feet tall and weighing about 210 pounds with brown hair and hazel eyes. He has multiple neck tattoos.

Anyone with information regarding Hunwardsen’s whereabouts is asked to call (209) 385-7445 or the county’s Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-855-725-2420 or text the word "Merced" and the tip to 274637 (CRIMES). Information can be given anonymously.

Three other inmates also escaped through the room of the same holding facility in April. Two were eventually captured, but one man, 26-year-old Felipe Angel Lopez-Valle, remains missing, authorities confirmed Monday.

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