TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — Wendy Smith-Cole and Mark Cole worked for Security Transport Services, Wendy for around a year and Mark for just a few weeks.
The two were paid $9.25 an hour to drive dangerous criminals and mental health patients across the country.
“I have transported murderers, rapists, child molesters,” Wendy said.
The company, located in south Topeka, made national headlines after two murder suspects escaped from their custody last year in Utah. Law enforcement and hospitals across the country hire STS to take prisoners and mental patients from state to state.
Now, former employees tell FOX 43 and KSNT News they weren’t prepared to be behind the wheel.
“There is no training process, what my training process was, they gave us a booklet of the statutes and stuff,” Wendy explained.
“You ask questions if you have, and I would get two different answers depending who I was riding with,” Mark added.
KSNT and FOX 43 News have been reaching out to the owner of STS, Tom Baumann, since the most recent escape in August, to verify the claims. He answered our call this week, but wasn’t available to be interviewed camera.
He told us the most recent escape “had nothing to do with training. It was due to complacent drivers.”
We asked the owner what happened to the drivers of that escape, he said they still work for him.
Those drivers were taking murder suspects Blane and Susan Barksdale from New York to Arizona, when they overpowered the company’s guards in Utah.
The suspects got away after convincing the drivers to pull over on the side of the road.
An internal review by the Pima County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona shows the STS drivers were at fault for improperly detaining the prisoners.
The two were on the loose for 16 days, before U.S. marshals found the couple hiding in Arizona.
“Were you surprised when the Barksdale’s escaped?” reporter Molly Patt asked former driver Wendy.
“No, absolutely not,” she answered. We asked why not.
“Because there was one in New Mexico where the guy got a hold of the drivers gun because he pulled over and took his gun, not at a gas station, not at a police station. So no, I wasn’t surprised.”
The Barksdale escape wasn’t the first problem for the Topeka company.
In 2018, the Albuquerque Journal reported a prisoner escaped from a van in New Mexico after getting a handcuff key from inside the van.
“The way the vans are set up, they have cages and locks, but on certain locks the inmates can stick their hands through and unlock it if you’re not watching,” Wendy explained.
The Lawrence Journal World reported a convicted sex offender escaped from STS in Lawrence in 2012. He was caught the next day.
Our archives, KKCO 11, and CJ Online, show in 2011 a prisoner escaped by stealing the transport vehicle in the Topeka area. He was arrested two weeks later in Denver and has since been convicted of killing his 5 month old son.
Idaho News reports another prisoner ran off while stopping to use the bathroom in Idaho.
Wendy says that’s another red flag.
“We’re supposed to stop at police stations and county jails to let the guys go to the bathroom, and the owner was like we don’t care. As long as it’s a rest stop and you’re both there.”
Jeanna’s Act regulates transport companies.
It says bathroom breaks are suppose to be scheduled and the city’s law enforcement where the stop is being made needs a 24 hour notice.
Other requirements include background checks, 100 hours of training, not driving alone and not spending more than 15 hours on the road at a time. Wendy and Mark claim that’s not always how it goes.
“You could be driving out in God knows where with God knows who,” Wendy said.
We dug through dozens of pages of travel logs we got from Wendy. Some logs show 17 and 18 hour travel days.
When we asked the owner of STS about the 19 hour travel day logged by Wendy, he said that was a breach of policy, blaming Wendy for not stopping. He said the company pays for drivers to stay in hotels at night.
With all the problems Wendy and Mark claim happen at STS, what kept them going back to work every day?
“I knew it was something that needed to be done,” Wendy said. “I have a 9-year-old grandson and I don’t want these people on the street. That’s what kept me going back.”
But is that enough to keep them going back day after day?
“I stopped putting myself available for driving for the company, I don’t want to put anyone else’s life at risk for their lack of training,” Mark said. “It’s a needed service, but you’ve got to provide all the training.”
STS has been operating out of Topeka for the last 30 years.
When we went to the office, we found a letter to employees posted right inside the front door.
The letter addresses complaints from hospitals, prisons and law enforcement for policy violations.
It also states that it’s directed at some of their employees who are creating these bad reputations for the company.
When we talked to owner Tom Baumann about all the claims from these former employees, he said there’s a lot of good people who work for him, but he’s also had bad employees as well who don’t follow the protocol.