Escapee drama unfolds close to home

By Christina Calloway
PNT senior writer
Portales’ Jeannie Ornelas was baking cakes and watching “Law and Order” with her children Friday when a real life police drama unfolded on her front yard.
Stephen Phillips, one of two inmates who had escaped from the Roosevelt County jail 20 minutes earlier, turned up at her house asking for help.
Ornelas convinced the 20-year-old Portales resident — who broke his leg during the escape — to turn himself into police.

Ruben Lozano

Ruben Lozano remains at-large following his escape from the Roosevelt County Detention Center Friday night.

The other inmate, Ruben Lozano, 42, remained at-large as of 10 p.m. Saturday night.
The pair escaped through an air conditioning vent in the ceiling of Lozano’s cell, according to the jail’s Administrator David Casanova. He added jail video footage shows Lozano and Phillips jumping off the roof at 9:02 p.m.
Ornelas said Phillips, who was wearing a thermal shirt and recreation shorts, begged her for a ride but after she declined, he identified who he was and that he had just escaped from the jail.
“He said he was looking at doing a lot of time,” Ornelas said. “I told him it was better to turn himself in.”
Ornelas said she suspected Lozano might have been at her home — located one block north and one block west of the jail in the 300 block of East Rose — at some point before she walked outside.
Ornelas said she heard two doors to her vehicle close, prompting her to look outside.
“I just seen two orange shoes on the ground,” Ornelas said.
Ornelas said she and her daughter remained calm and used their best judgment because they feared getting overly excited would put them in danger. But she felt Phillips wasn’t much of a physical threat because his leg appeared to be broken.
“He told us to call the police and tell them who he was so they could pick him up and to bring an ambulance; he even begged for them to hurry,” Ornelas said. “They took 30 minutes to get here.”
Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Malin Parker declined to comment on what time officials arrived at her home because he said he has not heard the audio tape of the 911 call.
Ornelas said she used her motherly instinct to keep him calm, and provided a chair for him to sit in while they waited for the ambulance to arrive. She even made him a bologna sandwich because she wasn’t sure how much longer he’d wait patiently.
Ornelas said once authorities arrived and apprehended Phillips, she gave them permission to search her home for Lozano.
She said she never felt she was in real danger with Phillips on her front lawn, but she held her children just a little bit tighter that night and made sure they all slept in the same room.
“We’re going to lock our doors (Saturday night),” Ornelas said.
Parker said they are following leads on Lozano’s whereabouts but declined to give specifics. He added to his knowledge there have been no sightings of Lozano since the jailbreak was reported.
“He’s not a mass murderer, he’s just a guy that doesn’t want to go to prison,” Parker said about Lozano. “He’s facing some significant (drug trafficking charges). We’re following up every lead we can.”
Parker said he doesn’t feel the public is at a great risk with Lozano loose but he does advise that if anyone sees him to call 911 immediately.
Casanova said a detention center officer found a blanket on the ground about 9:30 Friday night during a routine perimeter sweep of the facility.
Casanova said other inmates “were clearly aware” of the escape while it was happening.
He said he is not yet sure exactly how the inmates punched a hole in the roof after climbing through the vent.
Casanova said Saturday prisoners will remain on lockdown through the beginning of next week, but feels this was an isolated incident.

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