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N.D. manhunt continues; authorities 'have no idea' where escaped sex offender is

Joseph Megna

TOWER CITY, N.D. - A manhunt by numerous law enforcement agencies was under way Tuesday night after a convicted sex offender being transferred across the country by a private company escaped custody west of here earlier in the day.

At about 4:15 p.m., the suspect, Joseph Megna, ran from a transport van during a stop about two miles west of Tower City, near the Oriska rest area.

Tower city is about 45 miles west of Fargo.

Law enforcement officers went door to door in the rural area to alert residents of suspect and remind them to locks doors to buildings and vehicles.

Megna was in the van with six other prisoners and two guards when the van stopped for a mandatory break. Officials said Megna was not locked inside and a guard saw Megna running north across Interstate 94 as they were returning from the rest stop building.

Megna is a convicted sex offender from Washington state, Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said. Megna was in transit from Washington to New Hampshire.

About 50 law enforcement officers were scouring the area, including deputies from Cass, Barnes and Stutsman counties along with the North Dakota State Patrol and Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Jamestown, Valley City police and the Red River Valley SWAT team north of Interstate 94. Shortly after dark, officials said a CodeRed alert was sent to Valley City-area residents warning that Megna, who was dressed in plain clothes - a red shirt and blue jeans - had escaped. Residents were asked to remain alert and lock their doors and property.

A State Patrol airplane was also assisting. State Patrol Lt. Bryan Niewind said the search would continue through the night as a State Patrol plane circled a 20-mile radius.

"It's going to be up all night, just checking looking as many miles as it can," Niewind said. "We're assuming he's still in the area, we're hoping he's still in the area, and we'll find him tonight."

According to the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender registry, Megna, 29, is a high-risk sex offender from Pasco, Wash. The Franklin County (Wash.) Sheriff's Office describes Megna as 5 feet, 6 inches tall, white, weighing 160 pounds with blond hair and hazel eyes.

Niewind said Megna has no known connections to the area, but the rural area had officers concerned Megna would be looking for unlocked vehicles or homes.

Megna was convicted in April 2009 on two counts of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.

In 2009, Washington's Tri-City Herald newspaper reported Megna admitted to hosting a party and giving alcohol to numerous teens, inappropriately touching three of them and exposing himself outside an apartment.

Niewind said Megna was in the custody of a national transport company, TransCor America, based in Nashville, Tenn.

Seven other prisoners in the van were transported to the Jamestown jail.

His escape marks the second time in the past eight days that area authorities have searched a cornfield to apprehend a suspect.

On Sept. 28, the Red River Valley SWAT team spent 11 hours searching for Dylan Thomas Pederson, 21, in a field near Argusville after he allegedly threatened to kill himself and a woman. He has been charged with four felonies, accused of fleeing into a cornfield, prompting a long search that involved two helicopters and an airplane.

Longtime residents will recall Kyle Bell's escape in 1999 from a prison transport bus in New Mexico while he was being taken to Oregon. Bell confessed to Jeanna North's murder two years after her 1993 slaying. He was brought back into custody 88 days later after two appearances on "America's Most Wanted," which led to a Dallas apartment manager recognizing him as a tenant.

Bell is now serving his lifetime prison sentence at a high-security federal prison in Arizona as part of a prisoner swap agreement with North Dakota.