New York escapees on run as prison officer is suspended

Police Investigate Possible Sightings of NY Escapees

A New York state corrections officer was suspended on Friday in connection with the prison escape of two convicted murderers who have evaded capture for nearly two weeks, officials said.

Authorities did not say whether they believed the corrections officer, whose name was not released, would face charges or if he was believed to have assisted in the breakout at the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility in the upstate New York community of Dannemora.

The U.S. Marshals Service has put escapees Richard Matt and David Sweat on its 15 Most Wanted Fugitives List, and the manhunt, now in its 14th day, has widened to encompass the entire country. But many believe the escapees remain in the heavily wooded regions of New York's Adirondack Mountains and Vermont's Green Mountains.

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New York escapees on run as prison officer is suspended
UNDATED: In this handout from the New York State Police, a progression image of escaped inmate Richard Matt is seen. Matt and fellow inmate David Sweat escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York on June 6, and a manhunt for them is ongoing. The image is intended to show what the inmate would look like after almost two weeks on the run. (Photo by New York State Police via Getty Images)
UNDATED: In this handout from the New York State Police, a progression image of escaped inmate David Sweat is seen. Sweat and fellow inmate Richard Matt escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York on June 6, and a manhunt for them is ongoing. The image is intended to show what the inmate would look like after almost two weeks on the run. (Photo by New York State Police via Getty Images)
PLATTSBURGH, NY - JUNE 15: Joyce Mitchell (L) , a prison worker who allegedly helped two convicts escape from prison, is lead from Plattsburgh Ciy Court after a hearing on June 15, 2015 in Plattsburgh, New York. The convicts, Richard Matt and David Sweat, escaped sometime during the night between June 5 and June 6 from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York and law enforcement are on a multi-state manhunt for their capture. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
PLATTSBURGH, NY - JUNE 15: Joyce Mitchell (L) appears before Judge Buck Rogers in Plattsburgh City Court on June 15, 2015 in Plattsburgh, New York. Mitchell allegedly aided inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat in their escape from Clinton Correctional Facility. They were discovered missing the morning of June 6. (Photo by G.N. Miller - Pool/Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shown the escape path where two convicted murderers fled from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Police are on a manhunt for Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, who escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shown the escape path where two convicted murderers fled from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Police are on a manhunt for Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, who escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shown the escape path where two convicted murderers fled from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Police are on a manhunt for Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, who escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo walks past jail cells where two convicted murderers fled from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Police are on a manhunt for Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, who escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, shoes a note where two convicted murderers used power tools to cut through steel pipes at the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, shows where two convicted murderers escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, shows where two convicted murderers used power tools to cut through steel pipes at the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
DANNERMORA, NY - JUNE 6: In this handout from the New York State Governor's Office, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (R) is shown the manhole where two convicted murderers escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility June 6, 2014 in Dannemora, New York. Police are on a manhunt for Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, who escaped from the maximum security prison June 6, 2015 using power tools and going through a manhole. (Photo by Darren McGee/New York State Governor's Office via Getty Images)
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"A correction officer was placed on administrative leave this evening as part of the ongoing investigation into the escape at Clinton Correctional Facility," the New York state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said in a statement.

It said no further details would immediately be released.

Separately, Major Charles Guess of the New York State Police told reporters that investigators had spent "countless hours" interviewing another prison worker, Joyce Mitchell, who is accused of assisting in the breakout.

Mitchell, 51, a training supervisor in the prison tailor shop who is charged with giving hacksaw blades to the convicted murderers, lost her nerve to drive their getaway car and instead checked into a hospital with a panic attack, authorities said.

"(We) won't characterize if we have all information we need from Joyce Mitchell at this point," Guess said.

The busted prison cell walls, steam pipe and manhole cover the convicts slipped through to escape have been repaired, allowing authorities to lift a lockdown at the maximum security prison, Daniel Martuscello, a deputy commissioner of state corrections, said at a news conference.

Meanwhile, law enforcement officers, assisted by sniffer dogs, have so far searched 160 seasonal homes and unoccupied buildings and 585 miles (941 km) of trails and railroad beds.

New York State Police said on Friday they were investigating unconfirmed sightings of the two men walking near the New York-Pennsylvania border.

Witnesses told police last Saturday they saw two men fitting the escapees' descriptions in the town of Erwin, and witnesses reported seeing two similar looking men the next day some 11 miles (18 km) south in the town of Lindley, walking toward the border.

Experts say the escapees' range is limited by their survival skills.

"They can disappear very easily but to survive is another story, and that's really predicated on their plan and their equipment and, of course, their abilities," said Pat Patten, who was hired to help with the 2003 capture of Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph after more than five years on the run in the Appalachian Mountains.

Matt, 48, and Sweat, 35, broke out of prison at the height of the region's black fly season, when even the most hardened outdoorsmen douse themselves in insect repellent and wear head nets to guard against bug bites that can cause extreme irritation and sometimes even death.

After being incarcerated for so long, Patten said, the men will not fare well in the woods and are likely relying on civilization, including abandoned seasonal homes and camps, to gather food and equipment needed to stay hidden.

Patten said interactions with civilization are commonly where fugitives trip up.

Matt has a history of escapes, including one in 1986 in which he broke out of New York's Erie County Correctional Facility, only to be caught five days later in a family apartment near Buffalo.

(Additional reporting by Katie Reilly in New York and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles,; Editing by Ken Wills and Louise Heavens)

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