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East Texas inmate who escaped custody, girlfriend who helped him both captured

With his jailer’s back turned, Miguel Zuniga saw his opportunity and bolted out the door, officials said.
Credit: Houston County Sheriff's Office

HOUSTON COUNTY, Texas — An inmate who escaped custody in Houston County overnight Wednesday and his girlfriend who police say helped him have both been captured in Corsicana, according to law enforcement. 

The Houston County Sheriff's Office said the escaped inmate Miguel Zuniga was apprehended by the Corsicana Police Department around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Zuniga escaped just before 2 a.m. Wednesday. He was in custody on drug-related offenses, according to officials. 

The HCSO said Zuniga was assisted by his girlfriend, Melissa Peal Ortiz, who met him and provided a means of transportation for him to escape.

She was apprehended around 7:20 p.m. by the Corsicana Police Department as well.

Houston County Sheriff Randy Hargrove thanked the agencies involved in finding Zuniga and Ortiz, such as the Crockett Police Department, Houston County Constables Office Pct. 1 & 2, Houston County jailers, dispatchers and deputies, Grapeland Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Rangers. 

"Law enforcement agencies in Houston County work together to make things happen, it’s what we do. Thanks again for everyone's concern and support," he said. 

Zuniga was cleaning up the Houston County Jail’s lobby as a trusty. With his jailer’s back turned, Zuniga saw his opportunity and bolted out the door, officials said.

Hargrove said a trusty is someone who’s earned the jails trust as a lower risk inmate to do chores with less supervision around the jail.

"Sometimes you make a pick based on the way a guy acts in jail, but then when he's presented with that opportunity, he just can't stand it, he got to go," Hargrove said.

This is at least the third escaped inmate in Texas in the past four months.

Charles Spraberry was armed and dangerous when he escaped a Cass County Jail on Aug. 29, but was later captured. 

Gonzalo Lopez escaped a prison bus in Leon County before killing five members of the same family, including four children. Lopez was later killed during a shootout with law enforcement officers south of San Antonio. 

Retired Homeland Security Investigation Special Agent Victor Avila said when this happens, jails have to go through their processes with a fine tooth comb.

"Especially because there's been others escaped, you have to do a thorough investigation of the individuals involved at these shifts, guards, visitors. You name it," Avila said. 

He also said jail escapes are rare and preventable.

"Once in a while, you'll have one," Avila said. "It's kind of a fluke and a freak thing that an inmate tries to get out, especially from a county jail. But once you started having more than one, then you know that you have an issue, a real issue."

Hargrove said Zuniga’s initial sentence would have been six months for a low grade felony drug charge but after getting captured again, he could serve 15 years.

CBS19 will continue to update this article as more information becomes available.    

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