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Published October 05, 2011, 09:25 AM

Authorities closing in on escaped sex offender

Tower City, ND (WDAY TV) - An intense man hunt for what authorities are calling a desperate criminal is in its 5th hour near Tower City.

Updated at 8:30 am TOWER CITY, N.D. – Authorities are closing in on a convicted sex offender who escaped custody from a private company’s transport van west of here Tuesday afternoon.

"Right now, they spotted him back inside of a field, and we've got it saturated with people trying to collapse the perimeter," Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said at about 8:45 a.m.

The Barnes County field is located about three miles north and two miles west of Tower City, in an area the Red River Valley SWAT team was working overnight, Laney said.

Authorities using thermal imaging devices and night-vision goggles overnight were unable to find 29-year-old Joseph Megna, who ran from the van during a stop about two miles west of Tower City, near the Oriska rest area.

A North Dakota Highway Patrol airplane circled the area with forward-looking infrared (FLIR). The Red River Valley SWAT team’s Bearcat vehicle also is equipped with FLIR, and four handheld units were being used, as well, patrol Lt. Bryan Niewind said. About half a dozen officers had night-vision goggles.

Authorities received no reports of stolen vehicles or suspicious activity on farmsteads in the area, he said. Rural residents were reminded to keep an eye out and lock the doors to their outbuildings, homes and vehicles, Niewind said.

Laney said one of the biggest fears was that Megna would come across a farm vehicle left in a field with the keys still in it. Farmers were asked to check all of their vehicles, he said.

A prisoner transport van heading from New Hampshire to California stopped at a rest area off of I-94, that’s when a prisoner, a high risk sex offender decided to make a run for it.

That man is identified as 29 year old Joseph Megna. He is a level 3 sex offender, and was being driven back to Washington to face new charges of child molestation and for criminal sexual assault.

The van carrying 7 prisoners stopped at this rest stop here. Authorities are telling us guards from Extradition Transport Company failed to secure a lock Joseph Megna was attached to in the van. One of the drivers actually took off running after Megna in to the field but quickly lost him. Now, authorities are in a desperate search to find a possible dangerous runaway.

29 year old Joseph Matthew Megna, a convicted sex offender in the state of Washington was arrested in Florida and being transported to a California jail, now's he's believed to be hiding out in a more than 500 acre corn field.

Don Fiebiger – Barnes County Chief Deputy: "Obviously at dark, perimeter is not going to make a difference because he could crawl on his belly. But we got the border patrol with their helicopter, and the highway patrol with their plan flaring too.

At least six law enforcement agencies are scouring the fields, and staked out along the interstate. Authorities say Megna is not armed but likely desperate and dangerous, a scary feeling for people looking on at the truck stop.

Chris Waters – Stopped At Rest Area: "It’s nuts, how they let somebody out like that, I just don’t know."

One of the drivers of the van tells us she escorted prisoners to the bathroom while the other guard was suppose to be on watch, but as she came out after a few minutes Megna and the other guard were gone.

Don Fiebiger: "Yes, he tracked him for quite a while, he went off in the Northeast direction, hit a slew, kind of lost some steam. So they don't know if he came back to the west or east but he was going north east."

As Megna still remains at large tonight, the unsettling feeling of a fugitive on loose is setting in here near Tower City.

Chris Walters: "I got kids, you don't want somebody like that on the lose"

This rest stop continues to be open but heavily guarded. Authorities say they have officers in the nearest towns of Valley and Tower City incase Megna did get that far. Authorities here tell us they will continue the search and all through the night if need be.

Check back to wday.com for the latest and tune in to WDAY 6 News at 5, 6, and 10 for the full story.

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