Richard Barela, who faced 179 years in prison a year ago after leading the law on a long chase in May 2016 that ended with him up on a grain elevator in Harrold, South Dakota, last week escaped from the minimum-security state prison in Yankton.
Barela, 28, stole a South Dakota state pickup truck and fled Yankton and his community service work site on Friday, Jan. 3, according to state prison officials who announced Barela was on escape status.
He’s apparently still on the lam.
He has been serving a prison sentence he received in September in a Pierre court room.
It’s the latest chapter in a criminal story about Barela dating back to at least 2010 that usually involved methamphetamine, by his own admissions in court.
He’s described by prison officials as a Hispanic man, 5 feet 11 inches tall, 165 pounds, with brown hair and eyes.
The state truck he stole from his community work site was a silver 2007 Chevy half-ton pickup with a state of South Dakota license plate that reads CH 331, prison officials said.
He’s lived --and committed crimes — in and around Pierre for years, according to court officials and documents.
The most serious charges stem from a wild police chase Barela led them on, beginning in Pierre on May 3, 2016, when he refused to stop when a police officer tried to pull him over after noticing problems with his car.
The chase went out on the U.S. Highways 83/14, reaching 95 mph, an officer said in a court affidavit. The parade of law officers trying to catch Barela followed him out near Canning east of Pierre, then on to Blunt, and on to Harrold. He not only drove toward law enforcement officers, endangering them, but drove a semi-truck and an SUV off the road, police say.
In Harrold, Barela’s car got stuck. He jumped out and climbed a grain bin and stayed up there for more than three hours, said then-Hughes County Sheriff Mike Leidholt.
Based on using his car as a deadly weapon aimed at officers, Barela was charged with several counts of aggravated assault on law enforcement officers involving two deputies, a federal marshal and a state Highway Patrol trooper in the May 2016 incident.
Each of the counts is a Class 2 felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison if he were to be convicted.
He also faced aggravated assault charges involving two civilian drivers, and several drug charges in the 2016 chase.
Barela was arrested in the summer of 2019 and charged with new drug-related crimes.
He appeared before state Circuit Judge Bridge Mayer on September 17, 2019, who sentenced him to 10 years in prison with four years suspended and credit for 365 days already served in jail in Pierre. He was sent straight to state prison.
At Barela’s sentencing on Sept. 17, Hughes County State’s Attorney Roxanne Hammond explained to Judge Mayer why she wanted some bail set for Barela, but not that much.
“Richie does have a significant (criminal) history but he’s also not a flight risk and was very compliant during the years he spent at the (Hughes County) Jail on his last (time). But in full disclosure he did cuss out (then-Magistrate Leo) Disburg at the hearing (in the summer of 2019) as well, so I don’t think he should be released with a PR (personal recognizance, no money) bond, but I also don’t think he needs a terribly high bond, either.”
Barela spent most of two years in the Hughes County Jail, as several files full of criminal charges against him were sorted out.
In July 2018, Barela finally pleaded guilty to charges in several files mostly involving his May 2016 meth-fueled flight from the law, facing “up to 179 years in the South Dakota Penitentiary,” he was told by then-Judge John Brown, who retired earlier this year.
In an agreement in July 2018 with prosecutors, Barela pleaded guilty to several counts, and most of the other charges were dismissed. “I was high on meth,” Barela told then-Judge Mark Barnett in July 2018. “I’m going to take responsibility.” Barnett retired earlier this year.
Barela also agreed to pay restitution of about $1,200 to damage he caused to a law enforcement vehicle. State, county and city law officers chased him in May 2016. One swerved to miss him and ended up in the ditch.
And, he had his girlfriend along for the ride, he admitted.
Before the May 2016 chase, Barela already was in serious trouble from a fight he had Dec. 2, 2015, in the snow in the yard of another man in Pierre, who told police he knocked a knife from Barela’s hand and then hit him with a wooden ox yoke.
The police officer on the fight scene said in a court document that Barela ditched his coat behind a building and gave himself up, with “his right forearm bent down below his elbow at an unnatural angle indicating it was broken.”
Barella admitted at the time he had been injecting methamphetamine in his left bicep and showed the officer the needle marks, the officer said in his report in 2015.
Hughes County’s prosecutors said in December 2015 Barela should be treated strictly because he was a habitual offender who had been convicted of two felonies in March 2011 for drug crimes and eluding police in an aggravating fashion.
In 2010 when he was 18, Barela was the passenger injured when Cameron Wishard, also 18, was killed after he drove a vehicle into a traffic light, then a tree in Griffin Park in Pierre. Barela was flown from Avera St. Mary’s Hospital to a Sioux Falls hospital for treatment of his injuries.
Speed and alcohol were factors in the crash, police said at the time.
In 2014, Pierre police used a stun gun on Barela when he resisted arrest on suspicion of having avoided his responsibilities in the prison system.
Barela was discharged from the state prison system in August 2015 after completing his sentence, according to the Department of Corrections website.
In the summer of 2016, Barela’s mother was allowed by Judge Brown to take her son to the state human service center in Yankton for treatment for his drug and alcohol problems.
On Friday, prison officials told the public, “If you see Barela, know of his whereabouts or see the vehicle, contact law enforcement immediately.”