By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A convicted car thief who was assigned to a San Diego area state prison's fire fighting detail escaped in one of the prison's yellow fire trucks, prison officials said on Monday.
"He got in one of our institution's fire trucks and drove away," said Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility public information officer Lt. Patrick Logan.
The escape, which happened on Sunday, came to attention of police when the San Diego County Sheriff's Department got a call that someone was having trouble parking the truck in a convenience store parking lot in Spring Valley, about 25 miles from the prison.
"We received a call that there were two males in a yellow fire truck having difficulty maneuvering the vehicle," said Lt. David Gilmore, of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. "When our deputies arrived, they recovered the fire truck but the occupants had already run away."
Prison officials say that Thomas Frances Kelley, 51, was part of the prison's fire fighting detail and that he had been a model prisoner until Sunday night.
"He had to be a pretty model inmate to be assigned to the fire house, which was outside the main prison perimeter," Logan said.
Kelley was serving time for violating his parole and had been in the prison since November 2010, with a December 2013 planned release date, Logan said.
"Obviously, that's all changed now," Logan added. "I don't think he'll be in the outside perimeter again."
Authorities are looking for Kelley in the area where the truck was abandoned, Logan said.
(Editing by Mary Slosson and Greg McCune)