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Arizona sheriff suspends transport company after inmate escape

Blane Barksdale and Susan Barksdale (Tucson Police Department)

PHOENIX – The U.S. Marshals received updated images on Saturday of the two murder suspects that escaped while being transported from prison earlier this week.

“These updated photos of Blane and Susan Barksdale were taken shortly before overpowering the transport team outside of Blanding, Utah,” U.S. Marshal David Gonzales said in a press release.

(San Juan County Jail)

A southern Arizona sheriff’s department said Wednesday it is suspending use of a prison transport company after two suspects in a murder case escaped this week.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department said in a press release and Facebook post that its contract with Topeka, Kansas-based Security Transport Services began in November 2016.

“The current version of the contract with STS expires in November of 2019,” the release says. “The Pima County Sheriff’s Department has suspended use of STS pending a review of the incident/escape.”

The release says Blane Barksdale, 56, and Susan Barksdale, 59, overpowered STS guards in Utah and escaped custody near St. Johns in eastern Arizona.

STS has transported around 70 inmates at an approximate cost of $88,500 this year, according to the release. The department spent around $235,000 total in 2017 and 2018 for the company to move about 200 inmates, an average of $1,175 per inmate.

Pima County spent just under $2,500 the last time sheriff’s department personnel retrieved an inmate, according to the release.

“Cost for extradition is the largest reason the sheriff’s department utilizes a private transport company,” the release says, adding that Pima is among eight Arizona counties that use private companies to transport inmates.

The Barksdales, who are considered armed and dangerous, are suspected in the April slaying of a 72-year-old Tucson man.

Blane is 6-foot-5 and approximately 260 pounds with brown eyes and multiple tattoos on his arms and hands. Susan is 5-foot-7 and 110 pounds with blonde hair and blue eyes.

The U.S. Marshals Service announced Wednesday there would be a $10,000 reward for the capture of each fugitive.

Digital signs on Arizona highways alerted the public that the married couple remained at large.

Authorities say the Barksdales may be driving through Arizona and were last seen in a Red GMC pickup truck with Arizona plate 127XTY.

They face charges of first-degree murder and other crimes in the April slaying of 72-year-old Frank Bligh in Tucson. They were arrested May 24 in Henrietta, New York.

The sheriff’s office release said there was no indication they were traveling to Pima County.

Anybody who spots the Barksdales or has information about their location was asked to call 911 or 520-88-CRIME (27463) or 800-CALL-FBI (225-5324).

A man who was extradited from Texas to Arizona accused Security Transport Services of treating inmates improperly and keeping poor travel logs, Tucson TV station KVOA-TV reported earlier this month. Thomas Bray’s charges were later dropped, the station said.

Under its contract, the company’s logs must include records of breaks and meals and be signed by the prisoner. In response, president Thomas Baumann acknowledged the company “did not notate as agreed” on its logs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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