Utah history shows inmates in transit can be a security challenge

Mar 20, 2024, 9:00 PM

The sun rises over the Utah State Prison in Draper on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018....

The sun rises over the Utah State Prison in Draper on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The manhunt for an escaped Idaho inmate and the accomplice accused of helping him elude authorities while in transit to a Boise hospital may sound eerily familiar to corrections officials in Utah. 

Wednesday, police said the inmate, a member of a white supremacist prison gang, injured himself in order to be taken to the hospital overnight. Police said the inmate and an accomplice attacked corrections officers.

The last man executed in Utah and one of the seven men currently on Utah’s Death Row both received their sentences, in part, because of escape attempts carried out while they were inmates in transit. 

Man executed in Utah had history of escape attempts

Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed in 2010 for the murder of an attorney during an escape attempt. But it wasn’t his first escape attempt, nor the only time he attacked people responsible for moving him as a jail inmate. He attacked officers trying to move him out of his cell with a screwdriver in 1984. Later that year, he head-butted a corrections officer during a prison riot. He then staged an escape from a trip to the hospital by attacking the officer who transported him and stealing his gun. He was captured months later, after robbing a bar and killing an employee, Melvyn Otterstrom. 

While awaiting trial on that case, in 1985, Gardner shot and killed attorney Michael Burdell, during that previously mentioned escape attempt. At the time, he was being transferred from the state prison to Salt Lake City for a court appearance. A girlfriend supplied him with the gun he used to shoot Burdell. Burdell just happened to be there doing legal work unrelated to Gardner’s charges. Gardner also shot a bailiff before eventually being recaptured outside the courthouse.

Inmates in transit provide security challenge in Utah and elsewhere

A man currently on death row in Utah, Troy Kell, arrived there in part because of an attempted escape. Kell was serving a life sentence already when another inmate slipped him the key to his handcuffs in 1994 while he was being escorted to a medical clinic. He freed himself, then stabbed another inmate dozens of times using a homemade shank. 

Statewide, inmates in transit pose a challenge for security, whether at the state prison level or in county jails. KSL has reported on several cases of inmates walking away from work release programs in the past several years. Typically, they are recaught shortly later. But not always. A man escaped from the Utah State Prison in 1985 while helping fix equipment outside the facility’s gates. He was not recaptured until 22 years later. He was eventually caught when a state agency flagged the phony name he was living under as possibly being a stolen identity. 

Read more: 

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Crime, Police + Courts

The U.S Supreme Court is photographed on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024, in Washington. The Supreme Court is ...


Supreme Court will consider when doctors can provide emergency abortions in states with bans

The Supreme Court has allowed the Idaho law to go into effect, even during emergencies, as the case played out.

2 hours ago

One of two controlled detonations of old dynamite is seen in Holladay on April 24, 2024. (KSL TV)...


Crews detonate ‘ancient dynamite’ sticks found in Holladay home

HOLLADAY — Hazmat crews detonated old explosives that were found in a Salt Lake County home early Wednesday morning after evacuating dozens of nearby houses. We are live from the scene at 7:15!   Capt. Tony Barker with the Unified Fire Authority said the homeowner of a house near 6200 South and 2300 East called a […]

2 hours ago

Exterior image of the Ada County courthouse in Boise, Idaho, Monday April 3, 2023. As Chad Daybell'...

Emily Ashcraft,

Ex-husband of Lori Daybell’s niece testifies about an attempt to kill him, identifying JJ’s body

Brandon Boudreaux noticed something was off when he turned onto his street in Gilbert, Arizona, on Oct. 2, 2019.

12 hours ago

FBI agent Douglas Hart, right, testifies Monday about texts between Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Da...


‘Angels are angry’: FBI agent describes ‘manipulating’ texts between Lori and Chad Daybell

Testimonies from key people in Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell's life took the stand on Monday, who talked about strange messages from the couple.

2 days ago

us supreme court shown, court hearing case on ghost guns...

MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press

Supreme Court will take up the legal fight over ghost guns, firearms without serial numbers

The Supreme Court had previously intervened to keep regulation for gun ghosts in effect during a legal fight over the rules.

2 days ago

former president trump, hush money trial opening statement started monday...


Trump tried to ‘corrupt’ the 2016 election, prosecutor alleges as hush money trial gets underway

The opening statements in the hush money trial marked the first time that prosecutors have presented a criminal case against a former president to a jury.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.


Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

Utah history shows inmates in transit can be a security challenge