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Published: Wednesday, 3/21/2001

Drug suspect sheds handcuffs, escapes

HOLIDAY CITY, Ohio - At least three law-enforcement agencies have joined the search for a man who escaped from an Ohio State Highway Patrol cruiser after removing handcuffs that bound him.

The suspect was at-large yesterday after fleeing a patrol car near this Williams County community. The man was arrested after troopers found $150,000 worth of cocaine and a loaded gun hidden inside the minivan he was driving Monday night on the Ohio Turnpike. A passenger, Leonardo Marin-Nino, 24, of Tucker, Ga., also was arrested and was in the regional jail on a drug abuse charge, said Mark Murtha of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. The Highway Patrol said Trooper C.L. Brewster of the Swanton post stopped the driver of the minivan about 6:35 p.m. on the turnpike when the van was clocked going 80 mph.

“The men in the car appeared nervous and had conflicting stories, so she [Trooper Brewster] became suspicious and called for a canine unit,” said Lt. Gary Lewis, a Highway Patrol spokesman. The dogs led troopers to a hidden compartment in the minivan, where they found more than 13 pounds of cocaine and a weapon, Lieutenant Lewis said. The minivan was towed to Hutch's Towing & Recovery, Inc., in Montpelier. While in a patrol car, the suspect removed the handcuffs and crawled out a window.

State troopers and Williams County sheriff's deputies, using tracking dogs, searched for the man identified as Javier Montoya, 29, of Detroit. “Who knows, maybe he had a [hand]cuff key on him,'' said Mr. Murtha, whose agents arrived just after the escape. “We're not sure what happened inside the car. But we welcome any help finding him, including information from the public,'' Mr. Murtha said.

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