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Prisoner escapes, found in N.J. hospital vent less than an hour later

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A prisoner who escaped police custody while at a hospital in Jersey City was caught in a vent less than an hour after he tried to break free from the building, authorities said. 

The suspect, who had warrants for shoplifting, was found lying on an air-conditioning vent not far from the bathroom where he escaped inside Jersey City Medical Center at 355 Grand St., police said. 

"We found him in a section of the ER that was cornered off," said Charmaine Ifill, assistant director of nursing. "He wasn't able to go to the second floor or leave that area at all. It was blocked by two firewalls, so he wasn't able to leave the room at all." 

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Luis Torres was being cleared for incarceration at the hospital late Monday afternoon when he said he had to use the bathroom, according to authorities. He made his escape there, climbing through the ceiling and going up through a vent.

Torres was allowed to go to the bathroom alone because he wasn't a violent criminal, police said. 

He was gone for about 45 minutes as police searched for him. 

Patients and employees reported hearing the suspect crawl in the ceiling above them.

"You could hear him struggling, moving spot from spot to find a place to hide," said Ifill. "It was a little scary." 

Patients were moved away from the two bays where he was believed to be, creating a small backlog in the emergency room as a result. Visitors were not allowed in the hospital as police searched for the prisoner. 

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He was finally found lying on the vent less than an hour later.

Hospital staffers said they were equipped to handle the situation, which had never before occurred there. 

"We're trained for this," said Ifill. "We take care of a lot of prisoners. We are trained to handle emergencies and situations like this." 

Still, patients and visitors were rattled by the brief escape. 

"What if someone was really hurt from this situation?" said Pedro Sanchez of Jersey City. "It's not just a hospital. There's an elementary and middle school right around the corner." 

It's not clear if Torres had an attorney. 

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