Female Prison Guard Felt 'Dead' as Hostage

ByABC News via via logo

March 23, 2004 -- After two violent prisoners took corrections officer Lois Fraley hostage and managed to get control of the prison guard tower during a prison uprising, Fraley thought her life was over.

"I said goodbye to everybody," Fraley, 33, said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.

Fraley, agreeing for the first time to have her name made public, told GMA on Tuesday that she never expected to get out alive, because the inmates who held her captive were serving life sentences, and thus had nothing to lose.

The uprising at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis in Buckeye, Ariz., which lasted from Jan. 18 until Feb. 1, was the longest prison standoff involving a hostage in American history.

For 15 days, two violent prisoners held Fraley at gunpoint after their prison escape plan went awry. One was Ricky Kurt Wassenaar, 40, who was in prison for firing at police during a 1997 adult bookstore robbery in Tucson. The other was his cellmate, Steven Coy, who was serving time for robbing a liquor store in 1993 and raping the clerk while his pregnant wife waited in a getaway car.

The drama began around 3 a.m., while Wassenaar was on kitchen duty and planning to make his escape with Coy. He threatened the lone guard on duty with a makeshift knife and an industrial-sized stirring paddle, and then made him strip off his uniform. He handcuffed the guard, then had Coy tie up a civilian kitchen worker and guard the other prisoners, who didn't want to be part of the escape.

Next, Wassenaar walked to the two-story prison tower, where Officer Jason Auch, a 21-year-old rookie just three months on the job, saw the uniformed figure and buzzed him in. Using the paddle and shank as a weapon, Wassenaar was able to take both Auch and Fraley hostage, and get his hands on a gun. After other officers tried to subdue Coy outside, Wassenaar ran out of the tower, firing a semiautomatic rifle, and Coy was able to run in.

The Torture Begins

While holding the officers hostage in the tower, Wassenaar and Coy tortured Fraley and sexually assaulted her, before finally surrendering to authorities.For the first seven days after she was captured, Fraley was held with her fellow corrections officer, Auch. Both were handcuffed, but at one point she was able to loosen her cuffs enough to get out. Fraley thought she might be able to get the prisoners' gun while they were asleep, but Auch said it wasn't a good idea, and she could not do it alone.

Auch was released by his captors halfway through the standoff and gave this message to Fraley's 12-year-old daughter, Kyla, and the rest of her family: "You tell them I love them. No matter what happens, I love them."

Concrete Floor, Little Food

During the standoff, the men worked hard to protect themselves, Fraley said. They used Auch and her as human shields and told negotiators that if they fired at them, they would shoot the two officers.

"If he dies it's going to be with the death penalty," Wassenaar said of Coy. "Because he is going to kill the female."

Over the 15 days, the men demanded pizza and Big Macs, but they gave Fraley little, if anything, to eat. She lost 30 pounds and slept on the concrete floor of the tower with a single blanket.

To get through her most desperate moments, she prayed and looked at a picture of her daughter.

Another thing that helped her get through the ordeal was the radio playing in the tower. McKinney, a reporter for KTAR radio, an Arizona all-talk radio station, became a window to the outside world that was showing Fraley so much support.

"If it wasn't for Andy McKinney and his news radio, I would have committed suicide," Fraley said.

McKinney said he was terrified that he might be the last voice that Fraley would hear.

"I only had a few seconds to talk with this woman that was being brutalized and held captive," said McKinney, "and for all we know, I might have been the last person she could have talked to on the outside."

Reunited With Daughter

The inmates finally agreed to surrender after officials promised to transfer them to an out-of-state prison.

Fraley walked down the stairs of the tower between the two men, who were each armed. When they got to the yard, the men threw down their weapons, but Fraley was afraid until her fellow officers grabbed her to provide cover.

That night, she saw her daughter at the hospital.

"I took my family for granted and I will never do that again," Fraley said.

Last Wednesday, Coy pleaded guilty to 14 felony counts stemming from the hostage standoff. Fraley was there to watch the proceeding. He faces seven mandatory life sentences and as many as 255 years to be added to seven life sentences he already has received for prior convictions.

Besides a sexual assault charge added last Friday, Wassenaar faces charges of assault, kidnapping and attempted murder. He is awaiting trial in an Arizona prison, but he was also already facing life in prison.

As for Fraley, she intends to return to her job as a corrections officer.

"I am so ready," Fraley said. "I still have my breakdowns, but my family has been very supportive."

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