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Convicted sex offender captured in ND cornfield

Dozens of local, state and federal officials had searched for Joseph Megna, 29

By Dave Kolpack
Associated Press

TOWER CITY, N.D. — A convicted sex offender who escaped a prisoner transport van was nabbed Wednesday after farmers and officials worked together to flush him from a North Dakota cornfield, authorities said.

Dozens of local, state and federal officials had searched for Joseph Megna, 29, since authorities said he fled a private transport company’s van Tuesday about 45 miles west of Fargo while being moved from Florida to Washington state.

Barnes County Chief Deputy Don Fiebiger said Megna was arrested in Sarasota, Fla., and was first taken to New Jersey before being transported to Washington state to face charges of child molestation and another sexual offense.

Megna told reporters from the back of a squad car after his capture that he was surprised by the ruckus he caused. “I’m famous for running into a corn field?” he asked, adding that he never meant to put anyone in danger.

Megna said he fled the van because he was a vegetarian and wasn’t getting enough to eat during the cross-country trip. “I was starving,” a shirtless and dirt-covered Megna said before being driven off to jail.

Megna registered as a sex offender in December 2009, according to Leslie Cantu, registration coordinator for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in Washington. He served seven months after he was convicted in April 2009 for indecent exposure, assault in the fourth with sexual motivation and two counts of communication with a minor.

Authorities say Megna apparently forced an unlocked padlock from the latch of the van’s cage while other prisoners were taken into a restroom area along Interstate 94. Six other prisoners in the van were taken to a Jamestown jail after the escape.

Authorities had searched by ground and by air, and with the help of such technology as thermal imaging devices and night vision goggles.

They believe Megna spent the night in a barn where he had access to a water faucet, then fled into the field Wednesday morning after a deputy spotted him. Farmers in six combines and 18 grain-hauling semi-trailers came to the aid of law officers, and Megna was captured a few hours later, authorities said.

Barnes County Sheriff Randy McClaflin said the corn was 7-8 feet tall in spots and “thicker than thick.” The field measured about 310 acres, or half a square mile, according to farm owner Dennis Smith.

Temperatures Wednesday afternoon were near 90 degrees in the area, and the wind was gusting up to 40 mph.

“He’s got to be in misery out there,” Smith said before Megna’s capture.

Smith’s wife, Adele, said all of the volunteers took time off from their own farm work.

“It’s a small town and people help each other,” she said. “I was born and raised here, and this is why we won’t live anywhere else.”

Copyright 2011 Associated Press