Personnel shortage aided Howard County escape

The Howard County Sheriff told KRCG Monday a chronic personnel shortage enabled Walter Estay's early-morning jailbreak.

Estay, 21, escaped the Howard County Jail a little after 1 a.m. Monday during a routine jail check. When the jailer on duty went to inspect Estay's cell, Sheriff Mike Neal says Estay locked the jailer in the cell, retrieved the jailhouse keys from the control room and let himself out of the facility. Estay's escape went unnoticed until the next jailer's shift began several hours later. Estay stole a Toyota RAV4 and Neal believes he drove to Kansas City. Neal said sheriff's deputies have contacted many of Estay's friends and relatives but had turned up nothing as of Monday afternoon.

Neal says Estay's escape is the third since the new jail opened in 2004. When asked how Estay was able to get away, Neal immediately pointed to a lack of personnel as the culprit. He explained just one jailer is on duty at any time. Once the jailer on duty Monday morning was locked up, there was nobody to stop Estay's escape. Neal said his office's budget is too small to allow him to hire any more jailers, which he said is the only way to prevent escapes like Monday's from happening again. The sheriff said his budget problems stem from a lack of revenue for the county.

Howard County Presiding Commissioner Lowell Eaton told KRCG that Neal's assertions about his budget situation are accurate but refused to answer any questions about the county's revenue situation or the possibility of allotting more money to the sheriff's office.

Estay remained at large as of Monday evening. Neal said Estay should be considered possibly armed and dangerous, citing a first-degree robbery conviction from 2012.