Farmers are cutting down a massive North Dakota corn field today in an effort to flush out a convicted sex offender who bolted from a prison transport van and dashed into the field of eight-foot high corn stalks.
Joseph Megna, 29, escaped from the prison van around 4 p.m. Tuesday while the seven-passenger van had pulled over at a rest stop. The van was en route to Washington state where Megna was facing charges of child molestation. He was previously convicted on sex offense charges, and was being transported from Florida to face the new charges, police said.
During the bathroom break, a transport guard failed to properly lock Megna in the van, and he took off running into the corn field, Valley City police said.
The guard briefly chased him before notifying Cass County and Barnes County sheriff's departments, who quickly secured the perimeter of the corn field. At least six law enforcement agencies, in addition to helicopters, all-terrain vehicles, and infrared technology were all called into assist with the search through the night.
A sheriff's deputy encountered Megna in a farm shed during the search, but Megna escaped through the entrance the deputy used and disappeared back into the corn, according to Capt. Rick Majerus, of the Cass County Sheriff's Office.
The field is about one mile long and half a mile wide, Majerus said.
Barnes County authorities asked neighboring farmers to mow down the corn to find Megna and giant harvest combines moved into the field.
The fugitive is not believed to be armed, but police issued a community alert for neighbors to lock their doors and ensure that vehicles are locked and keys are not left in them.
A spokeswoman for the Valley City police department said that it is common for farmers to leave vehicles and trucks in the fields during harvest season, so police are trying to ensure the suspect cannot find a way out of the field.
Majerus said the farmer whose field is being cut down was two or three days away from harvesting his crop anyway, and didn't mind the help.