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Authorities hunt for two escapees from Castaic jail; officials say they faced prison time in armed-robbery case [Updated]

April 28, 2010 | 11:54 am

Authorities are looking for two armed-robbery suspects who escaped early Wednesday from the Castaic jail where they were being held during trial.

The men were discovered missing during a 3:15 a.m. head count at the North County Correctional Facility, just hours before they were due in court, said Steve Whitmore, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The men had been working at a kitchen loading dock and may have escaped shortly after 1 a.m., Whitmore said.

[Updated at 12:29 p.m.: Sheriff’s deputies weren’t certain how the men – both maximum-security inmates -- escaped and were investigating whether any trucks at the loading docks might have been involved, Whitmore said.

“The question is, why are they on this detail together?” he said. “That is what our investigators are examining.”]

Sheriff’s deputies believe the men, identified as Winder Barrios and Jose Aldana, both 24 and from Van Nuys, may have planned their escape because they were facing significant prison time.

The men disappeared the day after three witnesses identified them in court as suspects in a string of robberies, said Jane Robison, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. A suspected accomplice pleaded guilty in the case.

“We think we have a strong case,” Robison said.

On March 27, the men allegedly broke into an Encino home, tied up the housekeeper at gunpoint and began helping themselves to computers and television sets. When the homeowner's daughter arrived while the robbery was underway, she also was tied up, Robison said.

In another series of robberies, the men allegedly drove up to several cars in Hollywood on March 26 and 30, threatened the occupants with a shotgun and stole their possessions, she said.

The men have been charged with multiple counts of robbery, using a firearm in the commission of a crime and false imprisonment. Aldana also faces an additional charge of sexual battery linked to a March 26 holdup, according to the charge sheet.

If convicted on all counts, Aldana and Barrios could face more than 10 years in prison, Robison said.

When the men did not appear in court Wednesday morning, Judge Sam Ohta ruled that their absence was voluntary and that the trial would continue, she said.

About 50 sheriff’s deputies were participating in the search for the men, who were last seen wearing green jumpsuits, Whitmore said. 

-- Alexandra Zavis and Richard Winton