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2 violent prisoners escape from transport van in New Mexico, police say

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Lionel Clah and Joseph Cruz escaped from a prisoner transport van in southeastern New Mexico on Wednesday, March 10, 2016, state police said. Cruz was convicted of first-degree murder.

Lionel Clah and Joseph Cruz escaped from a prisoner transport van in southeastern New Mexico on Wednesday, March 10, 2016, state police said. Cruz was convicted of first-degree murder.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (CNN) — Two violent prisoners — including one convicted of first-degree murder — were on the loose Thursday after escaping from a prisoner transport van the previous night in southeastern New Mexico, authorities said.

Joseph Cruz, 32, and Lionel Clah, 29, escaped from the van near the city of Artesia on Wednesday night at about 8:30 p.m. while the state corrections department was attempting to transport them, the New Mexico State Police said.

Authorities are searching the Coors and Sequoia West neighborhoods for the two men, Albuquerque Police said via Twitter. Residents should avoid the area, they warned.

They were last seen wearing white prisoner jumpsuits and bound by shackles, state police said.

Details about the escape weren’t immediately available.

Cruz had pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and child abuse, according to the New Mexico Corrections Department.

Clah had pleaded guilty to armed robbery with a deadly weapon, and pleaded no contest to assault with intent to commit a violent felony upon a peace officer.

The corrections department and New Mexico State Police didn’t offer many details on how Cruz and Clah were able to get away from the prisoner transport van in which they were riding.

New Mexico Corrections Department Cabinet Secretary Gregg Marcantel said the van made several stops. He indicated the most likely point of escape was during a stop for gas in the town of Artesia.

The corrections department says the escapees shouldn’t be hard to spot.

“Both men are believed to be wearing white paper transport suits, fully shackled with leg irons, belly chains and handcuffs,” according to a Corrections Department press release.

It lists the tattoos the two escapees have: Cruz has “Alias” on the back of his neck and a tribal symbol on his right ear. Clah has a feather on his left cheek.

When they made their getaway, both men were on their way from the Penitentiary of New Mexico near Santa Fe to the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Las Cruces.