A hospital nurse allegedly helped a Pennsylvania prisoner who was handcuffed to his bed escape by slipping him a key, which was hidden in a tissue between two boxes of candy, Allegheny authorities confirm to PEOPLE.
The escape occurred earlier this month at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center McKeesport, about 10 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
The alleged escapee was Alexanders Erb, 26, who was originally arrested in a domestic violence incident but allegedly swallowed multiple bags of heroin in an apparent suicide attempt, necessitating his hospitalization and placement on 24-hour security watch, Allegheny County Chief Deputy Kevin Kraus confirms.
Erb eluded police for more than 16 hours before they found him hiding under a bed at a home two miles away.
HIs alleged accomplice, Michele Sims, 47, is the stepmother of Erb’s cousins. It is not known how she obtained the key.
“It was a universal key for those types of restraints,” Kraus told the Associated Press.
“There was a nurse in [Alexander’s] room and he was able to unlock part of the shackle connected to the bed under his covers.”
Kraus says Sims also loosened compression devices on Erb’s legs.
According to a Kraus, after Sims passed the key to Erb, she told him not to “do anything stupid on her shift.”
At around round 1 a.m., Erb used the key to unlock his handcuffs and asked a nurse to adjust the thermostat, so she would block the path of the deputy guarding his room, the AP reports.
“At that moment, inmate Erb sprang from the hospital bed and ran down the hall,” a criminal complaint obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette states.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
Kraus says the employment status of the deputy guarding the room is unchanged, but he says the department conducted an internal investigation. He says the sheriff’s office has “taken corrective action” and “identified training issues.”
“The primary issue is that [Alexander] was given a key and assisted to escape,” Kraus says. “That’s the primary issue, not a major issue on the part of the deputy.”
Erb is charged with resisting arrest, escape and possessing an instrument of crime – the key. He is being held at the Allegheny County Jail on $100,000 bail for the escape. Sims was charged with obstructing administration of law and hindering apprehension, and other offenses.
Court records do not list attorneys for Sims or Erb and it is unclear whether they have entered any pleas.
The hospital did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE but released a statement promising that the situation would “be dealt with appropriately.”
“Any allegation of illegal behavior by an employee is intolerable and unacceptable.”