Mountie ended U.S. fugitive’s latest escape

WASHINGTON — Richard Lee McNair, America’s wiliest prison escapee, met his match after 18 months on the lam when he was outrun by a cop who had just graduated from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police training academy.

Pulled over while allegedly driving a stolen van and carrying two fake IDs, McNair tried to make a foot race out of it. But his dash for freedom ended a quarter-mile down a gravel road in Campbellton, New Brunswick, on Thursday morning.

“That young Mountie just didn’t give up on McNair,” Rich Sansone, a deputy U.S. marshal who had helped coordinate the manhunt, said Friday in announcing the arrest.

A convicted murderer, McNair is being held in the Canadian province northeast of Maine while authorities sort out his future. Canada likely won’t want to keep him on a stolen vehicle charge, and there’s good reason to get rid of him quickly: The escape artist already has embarrassed sheriffs and prison wardens in North Dakota and Louisiana.

McNair, 48, kept vigorously in shape while inside the federal maximum-security penitentiary in Pollock, La., running up to eight miles a day while plotting his escape — which he pulled off in April 2006.

He first was arrested at age 28, burglarizing a grain elevator in Minot, N.D., where he shot one man and killed another. Taken to the sheriff’s office downtown, he found some lip balm in a desk and slid out of his handcuffs. Bolting down the street, he stole a car, climbed onto a roof and fell from a tree — and back into custody.

Held next in the county jail, he filched a hammer and flashlight and began loosening cinder blocks. But the jailers caught him and held him until he was sentenced to two life terms in prison.

Hustled off to the maximum-security state penitentiary in Bismarck, N.D., McNair soon busied himself removing security fixtures from inside an air vent. After an inmate ratted, authorities found McNair had a jacket, glasses, food and a word-processing diskette. A year later, he shimmied down a prison ventilation chute.

It was 10 months before the police nabbed him in a stolen van in south-central Nebraska.

In a prisoner-exchange program, North Dakota sent him to Minnesota, and then Minnesota traded him off to the federal prison system.

McNair did about five years in Supermax in the Colorado Rockies, the highest-level security penitentiary in the United States. In 2005 he was transferred to the prison in Louisiana because of his good behavior.

Four months later, McNair was free again, this time concealing himself in a pallet of old mailbags that had been fork-lifted outside. Dressed in a T-shirt and running shorts, he was questioned briefly by a local officer who had joined the manhunt.

But McNair talked his way out of that one by pretending to be an out-of-town jogger. “There’s a prison here?” he asked the cop.

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