American fugitive shoots self, wife as Thai police close in

An American man who was among three prisoners who staged a violent escape from a courthouse in Thailand shot and wounded himself and his Thai wife on Wednesday as police surrounded them.

Police Lt. Gen. Satawat Hirunburana said as officers approached the couple seeking their surrender, Bart Allen Helmus pointed a gun at his wife and told the police not to approach.

Satawat said Helmus, 40, shot his wife first and then shot himself in his right temple. Helmus was hospitalized in serious condition, while his wife’s injury was less serious, he said.

The wife, Sirinapa Wisetrit, was seen conscious in news video as she was being taken to a hospital.

Sirinapa was under arrest with Helmus for a drug trafficking charge carrying a possible death sentence, and escaped with him Monday from the provincial court in the eastern resort city of Pattaya.

Along with a Thai man facing the same charge, they escaped while being moved from a holding area to a courtroom. CCTV footage showed one, believed to be Helmus, stabbing a guard who tried to stop them and another forcing a guard at gunpoint to hand over keys to unlock a secured area so they could make their getaway in a nearby pickup truck.

Police discovered the truck abandoned in a sugarcane field on Tuesday. After a tipoff, they tracked the fugitives to a village in Sa Kaeo province, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Thailand’s border with Cambodia, where police believed they had been headed.

When police arrived in the area, the third escapee, Noi Nilthes, gave himself up along with his girlfriend, who allegedly had assisted the group with the escape.

Helmus and his wife were arrested in July after what was reported at the time to be a sting operation in which a police undercover agent bought 10 grams (a third of an ounce) of crystal methamphetamine from them. Police said they seized almost a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of the drug from them, as well as a gun with 200 bullets and 205,500 baht ($6,800) in cash.

Pattaya is a popular tourist destination but is also infamous for vice and crime, attracting more than its share of foreign criminals.

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