California corrections officers nab 1979 prison escapee in Reno

RENO -- A Modesto man who escaped a Tuolumne County state prison facility nearly 24 years ago was arrested here Thursday where he operated an auto repair shop, a California Department of Corrections spokesman said.

Corrections agents and Washoe County, Nev., sheriff's deputies acting on an informant's tip arrested Ray Wade Bell, 47. Bell lived in Reno for an undetermined number of years as Charles A. Winter, said CDC spokesman Russ Heimerich.

It was Bell's second arrest since escaping the California facility. Heimerich said Bell "slipped through the cracks" after a 1990 drunken driving arrest in Reno and wasn't pursued despite a fingerprint check identifying him as an escapee.

Bell, a minimum-security prisoner serving a two-year prison sentence for burglary and attempted burglary in Modesto, escaped July 5, 1979, from the CDC's Sierra Conservation Camp near Jamestown in Tuolumne County. Heimerich said Bell, then 23, would have been paroled in December 1979.

"On July 4, he apparently had a tearful visit with his wife, who was upset and crying at the time," Heimerich said. "On the day after, as he was working at a warehouse outside the gates of the prison, he escaped." One month earlier, the spokesman said, prison authorities released Bell temporarily to visit his ailing grandmother in Modesto.

The CDC spokesman said a May 19 informant's tip led them to Bell, who denied being an escaped inmate. But CDC officers and Washoe County detectives compared his 1978 and 1990 booking photos "and determined it was a strong likelihood it was him," Heimerich said. Fingerprints confirmed the identity, he said.

Bell is being held in Washoe County Jail pending extradition proceedings to return him to California. He faces up to three years in prison for the escape, Heimerich said.


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