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Originally published November 8, 2012 at 5:33 PM | Page modified November 9, 2012 at 10:30 AM

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Search on for prisoner missing from Monroe facility

State Department of Corrections staff are searching for an inmate who escaped from a minimum-security unit at the Monroe Correctional Complex on Wednesday night.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Brandon Musto had just three months left on his sentence for vehicular assault and theft when authorities say he scaled a 10-foot chain-link fence at the Monroe Correctional Complex and hopped into a friend's waiting car.

Prison staff noticed Musto was missing from the minimum-security unit during Wednesday's nightly head count, sparking a manhunt that led them to Grays Harbor County. It was there that police on Thursday arrested a man believed to have driven Musto from the prison, said Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis.

But there was no sign of Musto, 37.

Willis said that investigators believe that Musto's friend, 59, who lives in McCleary, must have "driven him somewhere" after picking him up outside the Snohomish County prison.

"What we need to find out is where," Willis said.

Musto's friend, who was arrested by the Grays Harbor County Sheriff's Department for investigation of rendering criminal assistance, is not cooperating with police, she said.

Willis said that state Department of Corrections (DOC) staff led their officers to the Grays Harbor County man.

DOC spokesman Chad Lewis didn't want to disclose too much about the investigation because they fear Musto, or his friends, are paying close attention to media reports of the escape.

"There's a good chance he or a buddy are watching the news ... it's all very cat and mouse. We don't want him to know what we know," Lewis said.

Lewis said that Musto was set to be released from prison in February. Only offenders who are within four years of release are kept in the minimum-security unit.

"You have a foot out the door, there's little incentive" to escape, Lewis said.

Musto began serving time in September 2011 for the vehicular-assault conviction out of Thurston County and a second-degree-theft conviction out of King County, according to DOC.

According to charges, Musto, who also goes by the name Brandon Merrill, was driving a Cadillac Escalade in Thurston County on May 17, 2011, when he struck a man who was riding Musto's motorcycle. Prosecutors, in charges, said it was unclear whether the motorcyclist was "struck on purpose or as a result of substantial recklessness."

Musto, under the name Brandon Merrill, was sentenced in King County Superior Court to almost two years for second-degree theft for stealing several items from a Covington power-equipment company.

DOC officials said that Musto was serving time on both convictions and was scheduled to be put on probation after his release in February.

Musto is a white man, 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, with brown eyes and dark hair. He has tattoos on his right arm and left wrist.

Anyone with information on his location is asked to call 911.

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294

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