News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

They escaped from jail using a toothbrush — then were captured at an IHOP

The Newport News Sheriff's Office says Garza and Nemo are back in custody, with escape-related charges pending.
Newport News Sheriff's Office
The Newport News Sheriff's Office says Garza and Nemo are back in custody, with escape-related charges pending.

Two men managed to crawl and climb their way out of a Virginia jail on Monday, but their escape was cut short when police arrested them at a nearby IHOP the next morning.

The sheriff's office in Newport News, about an hour's drive north of Virginia Beach, says 37-year-old John Garza and 43-year-old Arley Nemo are back in custody and new charges against them are pending.

"A criminal investigation and an internal investigation are ongoing as the Sheriff's Office works to minimize the chances of such an event happening again," it added.

The two had been held at Newport News Jail Annex, a medium-security facility, for months facing a slew of different charges, according to the sheriff's office.

Garza had been in custody since December on charges including contempt of court, probation violations, and failure to appear. Nemo had been in custody since October on charges including credit card fraud, forgery, possession of burglary tools, grand larceny and contempt of court.

Police had urged the public to be on the lookout for the men, and credit bystanders with spotting them at the breakfast franchise some 10 miles away.

Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said in a Tuesday Facebook Live video after their arrest that no one was injured, and he didn't believe there had been any threats to the public.

"I don't think that we were dealing with, like, menacing individuals," Drew said. "What we had was two individuals that were able to escape from the jail facility."

How they got out

Authorities say the men escaped on Monday afternoon, though their absence was first noticed during a routine headcount around 7:15 p.m. They weren't in their cell — or anywhere in the facility, as it turned out.

"Further investigation determined that the men had tunneled through a cell wall leading to the exterior and proceeded to scale the security wall," the sheriff's office said, sharing a photo of a small, round hole in one of the jail's brick walls.

The men escaped by making a hole in one of the jail's walls and then scaling an exterior wall.
/ Newport News Sheriff's Office
Newport News Sheriff's Office
The men escaped by making a hole in one of the jail's walls and then scaling an exterior wall.

The sheriff's office says that the men exploited an unspecified "construction design weakness" with the help of "primitive-made tools constructed from a toothbrush and metal object."

Citing security concerns, they said they wouldn't elaborate on the situation until the facility-wide structural issues are fixed.

"Based on this incident, a Newport News facility management and engineering team comprised of NNSO personnel and city facilities engineers are reviewing and formulating ways to mitigate the aforementioned facility weakness," they wrote.

How they were found

Authorities alerted the public to the escape on Monday evening, sharing mugshots and urging people to be on the lookout for two men wearing white thermal sweatsuits.

They said at the time both individuals "should be considered dangerous" and that anyone who spotted them should call 911 or city police.

Hours later, people noticed the men at an IHOP in Hampton, a coastal city about 10 miles away.

"I'm thankful for the citizens who observed Garza and Nemo at the IHOP and notified law enforcement," said Sheriff Gabe Morgan.

Hampton Police Department officers arrested the men early Tuesday morning, with Drew saying he was notified around 3:30 or 4 a.m.

He described it as a regrettable situation with a swift resolution.

Drew attributed that to robust collaboration between local law enforcement agencies as well as calls from community members, who, he said, "played a huge role in allowing this thing to come to an end quickly."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.