A convicted armed robber escaped from one of Iowa's most secure prison cells by sneaking through piping onto the roof and guiding himself to the ground with a makeshift rope, authorities said. Justin Kestner, 25, escaped early Sunday from an A-Pod unit cell at Fort Madison's Iowa State Penitentiary, which houses some of the state's most difficult inmates. "This is an individual [who] I think was pretty ingenious in what he came up with," Gov. Terry Branstad said. The A-Pod is a unit where maximum-security inmates are confined to cells 23 hours per day and are searched, handcuffed, and escorted whenever they leave. Kestner, serving a 20-year sentence, took advantage of the fact that A-Pod cells have their own showers—a security feature to cut down on offenders' interactions with others. Kestner removed screws in the shower from an access cover leading to a pipe chase—an enclosed space housing the prison's pipes, authorities said.
Kestner maneuvered himself up the chase and through a roof vent, crawling "through a very narrow area that's supposed to be too small for someone to crawl through," Branstad said. The governor said Kestner made his rope by tying together some 67 feet of bedsheets. He then guided himself down to an unfenced part of the prison grounds and fled. Kestner was captured several hours later about 100 miles away and is expected to face new charges. "I'm flabbergasted ... anyone could have gotten out of there," an ex-building administrator said. Most of the prison is set to close later this year, and roughly 500 inmates will be transferred to a new penitentiary. "This close to a transfer, we cannot be having escaped convicts. That's just unacceptable," said Rep. Bobby Kaufmann. He worries that Kestner's break—and last month's in New York—"will potentially embolden other inmates to raise trouble."