A man who authorities say ran away in 2013 from a van transporting prisoners that was stopped near Independence Rock on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to the single felony he faces in the case.
Kenneth James Ward, 57, entered the plea in Natrona County District Court on Tuesday morning.
Jail and court records indicate Ward is being held in Natrona County Detention Center in lieu of a $1 million bond requirement. He faces a single count of felony escape in the case.
According to documents filed by prosecutors, two guards in August 2013 transporting a dozen prisoners from Casper to Rawlins for an Arkansas-based contractor stopped a van near Independence Rock. All 12 inmates went into a rest area, but guards realized that only 11 had returned to the vehicle. Ward, who was not wearing a full set of shackles due to outstanding injuries, was missing.
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Surveillance footage, sheriff’s deputies state in the documents, shows Ward slip around the back of a rest area building when guards are not watching.
The escape came barely a week after Ward’s arrest in Mexico for previously skipping a million-dollar bond setting in Sweetwater County, documents state.
Authorities spotted Ward about a week after the 2013 escape before the trail went cold. It wasn’t until last year that law enforcement announced Ward had been arrested in New Mexico.
The Natrona County case is not Ward’s only ongoing criminal proceeding. He also faces a federal case in Montana alleging that he illegally dumped radioactive oilfield waste. Prosecutors in the federal case, dating to 2017, charged Ward with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, alleging he took a contract to properly dispose of the waste before dumping it in an abandoned gas station.
Federal court records indicate that Ward has not yet entered a plea in the fraud case.