By People Staff
February 16, 1976 12:00 PM

Robert Miller may be the only man in history to avoid prison by escaping in a wheelchair. Miller today is a 30-year-old unemployed salesman, living in comparative ease in Los Angeles. Only last July, Miller was in a Mazatlán, Mexico jail, charged with possession of marijuana. His troubles began, he says, when local police tried to shake him down on the street for a few pesos. He refused. They searched his hotel room and found pot. “Then they drove me to an empty field,” says Miller, “hooked a long wire to the battery of their jeep and gave me shock blasts on the chest, back and arms. I passed out.”

Soon after, Miller found himself behind bars along with 125 other prisoners, including 12 Americans. “It’s hard to expect anyone to believe the filth,” says Miller. “There were cases of hepatitis, TB, typhoid and even three cases of leprosy. The medical treatment was a joke. There were beds for only half the prisoners and one toilet for 50 men in a unit. You bought the right to sleep or eat.”

Miller languished for three months. Then, in October, a hurricane hit with 150-mile-an-hour winds and toppled the prison walls. “I was buried, with only one hand above the bricks and cement,” recalls Miller. Other prisoners dug him out, and he was sent to the prison hospital with a broken leg.

“I lay there for nine days in my own excrement with cement still on me, unable to move,” Miller recalls. “The bastards wouldn’t even clean me up.” Eventually, Miller smuggled out a message through a nurse to his mother in L.A. She came to Mexico and had him transferred to a private hospital.

“When the pesos came they began to take care of me,” Miller says. Soon Miller was equipped with a heavy cast and a wheelchair. He was able to get word to a girlfriend in Mexico who contacted his cousin and his ex-roommate in California. They flew to Mazatlán and hatched an escape plan. On New Year’s Eve, Miller’s ex-roommate waited outside the hospital in a rented station wagon while the cousin stole to a nearby patio. Miller recalls, “I peeked out the door and the guard was busy entertaining a nurse so I wheeled to the next room.” He then raced down the hall and into the arms of his cousin. “As we left, several people offered to help, even a Mexican soldier,” says Miller. “They thought I was a patient just released.”

Miller was stashed in the back of the station wagon with the wheelchair on top of him and the trio sped south to Guadalajara. “We knew they would expect Americans to head north,” he explains. With phony immigration papers acquired by his cousin, Miller slid through customs and flew out of Mexico on a Mexican airline. Was that the end of it? Not quite, says Miller: “I sent a check to the hospital for the cost of the wheelchair.”