(NEW YORK) — The Pennsylvania State Police is coming under scrutiny after conceding that convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante, who escaped from a prison 11 days ago, snuck through a perimeter guarded by hundreds of officers, stole a van, altered his appearance and drove miles north where he tried to contact two former work colleagues, officials said.
Cavalcante was spotted late Saturday in East Pikeland Township, more than 20 miles from where officials thought they had him pinned down in the Longwood Gardens, a sprawling horticulture attraction about 5 miles southwest of the prison he escaped from in Pocopson Township, Lt. Col. George Bivens, deputy commissioner of operations for the Pennsylvania State Police, said at a news conference Sunday afternoon.
“No perimeter is 100% secure, ever. I’m not going to make excuses. I wish it had not happened,” Bivens said. “This is a minor setback. We’ll get him. It’s only a matter of time.”
Bivens said the 34-year-old Cavalcante allegedly stole a white work van from Baily’s Dairy sometime Saturday night about three-fourths of a mile from the perimeter around Longwood Gardens. He said the van was unlocked and the keys were left inside, enabling Cavalcante to easily steal the vehicle.
The van, a 2020 Ford, was found abandoned at 10:40 a.m. Sunday in a field behind a barn in East Nantmeal Township, Bivens said, adding that the van had run out of fuel.
“We are obviously very concerned that Cavalcante has or will attempt to steal another vehicle to facilitate his escape,” said Bivens, adding that the search for the fugitive could potentially become a national manhunt.
He said investigators believe Cavalcante is still in Pennsylvania and have refocused the search to the East Nantmeal Township area in northern Chester County.
Officials released still photos from a video doorbell camera of a clean-shaven Cavalcante wearing a green hooded sweatshirt over a dark baseball hat.
Bivens said the video was taken at 9:52 p.m. Saturday at the home in East Pikeland Township, near East Nantmeal Township, that belongs to a man who once worked with Cavalcante.
“He spoke with the individual via a video doorbell at that residence and inquired about meeting with that individual,” Bivens said.
He said Cavalcante’s former colleague was not home at the time. He said that when the homeowner returned to the residence he checked the footage on his surveillance camera and called local police.
At the time he was recorded on the doorbell camera, Cavalcante was seen driving the white Ford van.
Cavalcante, according to Bivens, also showed up at another former work colleague’s home in nearby Phoenixville around 10:07 p.m. Saturday.
“That associate was not home but a female resident observed Cavalcante and called her friend. That friend responded to the residence and eventually placed a call to local police,” Bivens said.
Bivens said police didn’t learn Cavalcante had eluded their perimeter at Longwood Gardens until about 12:30 a.m. Sunday, when they received reports of the sightings of the fugitive in East Pikeland Township and Phoenixville.
“This was our first indication that Cavalcante had been able to travel from the area of Longwood Gardens,” said Bivens, adding that the owner of the stolen van did not know the vehicle was missing until police contacted him early Sunday.
Bivens was pressed by reporters on how Cavalcante could slip through a police perimeter fortified by up to 400 officers.
He said there were a number of drainage areas and underground tunnels at Longwood Gardens that could not be secured, Bivens said.
Bivens said Cavalcante is showing his desperation by attempting to contact associates.
“He’s absolutely looking for support. He needs that support and doesn’t have it,” Bivens said.
Cavalcante escaped Aug. 31 from Chester County Prison, where he was being held after being convicted of stabbing his former girlfriend to death in broad daylight, officials said. He’s alleged to have sneaked out of the prison by “crab walking” up a wall in a prison recreation yard, pushing his way through razor wire and accessing the roof, where he climbed down and made his getaway an hour before prison guards realized he was missing, officials said.
Authorities believe Cavalante followed the same route and method of escape as an inmate who bolted from the prison in May.
Police have received numerous reports of sightings during the 11-day manhunt, most of those in the Pocopson Township area.
Law enforcement warned that Cavalcante should be considered “extremely dangerous.”
Bivens said he has no “substantive proof” that Cavalcante has obtained a weapon, but noted that investigators believe he has burglarized several homes.
He said police are “authorized to use deadly force” if Cavalcante is cornered and refuses to surrender peacefully.
Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.