US fugitive planned suicide-by-bear

2011-01-28 11:00
In this September 2010 photo, convicted killer Tracy Province is seen being escorted from a courthouse in Kingman, Arizona. (Naz Stobe Kirst, AP)

In this September 2010 photo, convicted killer Tracy Province is seen being escorted from a courthouse in Kingman, Arizona. (Naz Stobe Kirst, AP)

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Flagstaff - A convicted killer who escaped from an Arizona prison said after his capture that he had planned to overdose on heroin at Yellowstone National Park and let bears eat him to end the fear and panic he was experiencing while on the run.

Tracy Province told Mohave County sheriff's Detective Larry Matthews that he had wanted to go up on a mountain, inject a gram of heroin and "be bear food". As he was preparing the drug, a voice told him not to go through with the plan, and he changed course in favour of trying to hitchhike to Indiana to see family.

"He called it divine intervention," Matthews wrote in an August report.

Al Nash, a spokesperson at Yellowstone National Park, said it's certainly possible that Province's plan would have worked, but it struck him as improbable.

"We have a fair number of bears in the ecosystem," Nash said. "They eat about anything. A bear would rather get an easy meal than a difficult meal, but human bear encounters are very infrequent."

Authorities say Province asked fellow convict John McCluskey and their alleged accomplice, Casslyn Mae Welch, to take him to Yellowstone, so they drove him to the Wyoming park from New Mexico. Province doesn't name anyone else in the interview with Matthews, but it's clear whom he's with.

Their travels took them to the Phoenix area to get clothing and to an eastern Arizona Walmart to buy sleeping bags, and they got turned around in Oklahoma and Texas, Province said in the interview first reported on Thursday by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Guilty plea

The trio face capital murder and carjacking charges in New Mexico, where they're accused of killing an Oklahoma couple and burning their bodies inside a camping trailer.

Province has pleaded guilty to Arizona charges of escape, kidnapping, aggravated assault and armed robbery and is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday. He then will be sent to New Mexico to face charges there.

Province, McCluskey and a third inmate, Daniel Renwick, escaped from a minimum-security prison near Kingman on July 30. Authorities say Welch helped them flee by throwing cutting tools over the perimeter fence.

Province told Matthews about his plan to commit suicide after he was returned to Arizona following his August 9 capture in the sleepy town of Meeteetse, Wyoming.

He was serving two life sentences for murder and robbery and told Matthews he fantasised about fleeing but became nervous after scaling a fence topped with barbed wire and cutting through another fence. The trio's escape went unnoticed for hours.

"He didn't know why anyone would want to escape because all you do is look over you(r) shoulder the entire time," Matthews wrote.

Province told the detective he had put a gun under a pillow at an Albuquerque motel, then turned on the TV and saw a story about the escape, so he panicked and left without the weapon.

Weeks of planning


Province also discovered that he forgot how to drive during their time in New Mexico, telling Matthews that he almost hit other motorists. The group of fugitives ended up leaving the vehicle he was driving behind.

"Everyone drives too fast now," Matthews quoted Province as saying. "When he went to prison the speed limit was 55" m/h, or 80km/h.

Province recounted to Matthews that he told his travelling companions he was upset after the New Mexico killings and that "he wasn't in for it". The two suggested Yellowstone, and they dropped him off there.

The escape that Province said was planned over a couple of weeks spurred a nationwide manhunt for the fugitives.

Renwick had split from the group right away and was captured days later after a shootout with police in Colorado.

Authorities caught up with McCluskey and Welch in eastern Arizona, where a Forest Service employee spotted the beat-up Nissan they were driving at a campground. They are set to go to trial on Arizona charges April 19.

- AP

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