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Inmates escape California courthouse, 2 arrested for helping

PALO ALTO, Calif. — Authorities in California who are searching for two men who escaped from a Palo Alto courthouse Monday have arrested a woman and a man who they say aided in the brazen breakout, reports CBS San Francisco.

Police say Tramel McClough, 47, and John Bivins, 46, were able to escape in part because Marquita Kirk rented a U-Haul truck and staged it near the courthouse to serve as a getaway vehicle. Kirk has a long-standing relationship with McClough, deputies said. 

Marquita Kirk (left), Rene Hunt CBS San Francisco

Kirk and Rene Hunt were both arrested on suspicion of conspiracy and being an accessory after the fact for the brazen escape, which occurred at about 9:30 a.m. outside the Santa Clara County Superior Court's Palo Alto Courthouse.  Information about Hunt's arrest or his involvement in the inmates' escape was not immediately available.

Bivins and McClough were heading to a court appearance in the same courtroom on the morning of the escape. As the deputies were escorting the inmates to court, the inmates somehow caused a distraction, officials said.

At that point, McClough and Bivins — one of whom was in chains and shackles and the other in handcuffs — bolted for a nearby emergency exit. It isn't clear which prisoner had the heavy set of restraints.

Other inmates who were with the duo as they were being led to court didn't attempt to escape.

A deputy gave chase, but was unable to apprehend the duo, who got into a waiting 1980s-model Toyota Corolla about 50 to 60 yards from the courthouse. The pair and those who accompanied them in the getaway vehicle then dumped the Toyota at an undisclosed location, got into the U-Haul, drove away and haven't been seen since, officials said.

The inmates appeared to have a handcuff key in their possession sometime during the escape, although it's unclear how they acquired it.

Sgt. Reggie Cooks said Monday that the pair is from the Palo Alto area. Bivins has an "EPA" tattoo (which stands for East Palo Alto) on his stomach, Cooks said.

"They're from the local area … anyone who is anyone that is aiding or abetting we would prosecute to the fullest extent," Cooks warned.

Both McClough and Bivins were being housed at Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas.

Bivins is described as a 5 foot 9 inch, 180 pound black man with brown eyes and black hair. McClough is a 6 foot, 4 inch black man who weighs 285 pounds. Both inmates had jumpsuits with orange tops and gray pants which they were still wearing as they escaped.

The men were arrested in February on suspicion of stealing $64,400 worth of cellphones and other merchandise from a Verizon store in Sunnyvale, police said earlier this year.

In that case, the men allegedly wore masks and forced store employees to open a safe, before tying them up and locking them in the bathroom.

One of the two was armed with a handgun while the other had a knife, police said. The pair then allegedly ransacked the store, taking dozens of cellphones and other merchandise before fleeing in a vehicle.

Police apprehended the suspects afterward nearby, following a short pursuit.

Police recovered the stolen property and the handgun allegedly used in the robbery. The gun had been reported stolen out of Nevada, police said.

Anyone who sees them is advised to call 911 or the sheriff's office at (408) 808-3670.  

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