County readies prisoner transport vehicle

Gone are the days when some prisoners from the Mesa County Jail were transported over the mountains on an airplane.

After the Sheriff’s Department’s Cessna P210 collided with another small plane in midair last
October, officials have been designing a prisoner transport van. By mid-January, the department expects to receive a prisoner module that can be put on the chassis of a Ford F-350 truck. The module, manufactured by Braun Northwest Inc., can carry 13 prisoners and two deputies in three sections.

The module can be placed on the chassis of a new truck when the first truck wears out, Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said.

“Mounting a module on a diesel truck seems like a better business plan at this time,” she said. “This is not a result of the crash. Obviously this holds more inmates. In the future, a new truck is going to be a quarter of the price of a new plane.”

The county also considered the cost of diesel fuel compared with airplane fuel, and that the county’s pilot, Andy Gordon, retired this year.

Four prisoners and two deputies fit into the county’s airplane. Vans also had been used for prisoner transport.

The plane was worth $100,000, and the Sheriff’s Department would have had to pay a third party a 10 percent commission to sell it for the county.

Instead the plane was swapped for the module, valued at $88,400.

New technology in the module will allow deputies to use video and audio monitoring of prisoners and will make transportation safer for deputies and prisoners, Benjamin said.

On Oct. 22, the county’s Cessna 210, which was built in 1983, collided with a Cessna 180 around 10,500 feet near Grand Mesa. The tail section of the Cessna 180, which was piloted by Thomas Haefeli of Del Norte, was clipped by the county plane, which was flown by Gordon.

Gordon landed county’s airplane at the Grand Junction Regional Airport. Its landing gear was damaged. The plane was carrying two inmates and one deputy,

Haefeli landed his plane near Whitewater. No one was injured in the crash.


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