American among 3 drug prisoners in escape from Thai court

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By The Associated Press  with NBC News World News
American among 3 drug prisoners in escape from Thai court

BANGKOK — An American man was among three prisoners who staged a violent escape from a courthouse in the town of Pattaya in eastern Thailand, prison officials said Tuesday.

Corrections Department Director-General Naras Savestana said in a statement that the three, who were shackled, escaped Monday while being moved from a holding area to a courtroom.

The three face drug trafficking charges that carry a possible death sentence.

CCTV footage showed one stabbing a guard who tried to stop them and another forcing a guard at gunpoint to hand over keys to unlock a secured area so they could make their escape in a nearby pickup truck.

Thai media reported Tuesday that the injured guard was recovering in a hospital. The Bangkok Post said the pickup truck had been found abandoned in a nearby district and two people suspected of aiding the escape had been arrested.

The Correction Department statement identified the American as 40-year-old Bart Allen Helmus, who is believed to be the person who stabbed the guard. The two others were his Thai wife, Sirinapa Wisetrit, and a Thai male named Noi, or Tone, Nilthes. All had been charged with possession of dangerous drugs with intent to sell.

Helmus and his wife were arrested in July after what was reported at the time to be a sting operation in which a police undercover agent bought 10 grams (a third of an ounce) of crystal methamphetamine from them.

Police said they seized almost a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of the drug from them, as well as a gun with 200 bullets and 205,500 baht ($6,800) in cash.

Pattaya is a popular tourist destination but is also infamous for vice and crime, attracting more than its share of foreign criminals.