The corrections officer sarcastically thanked in the note left by two inmates who made a daring escape last month from Union County Jail committed suicide this morning, authorities said today.
Corrections Officer Rudy Zurick.The guard, Rudolph Zurick, 40, shot himself in the head at his home in Middlesex County, authorities said. Sayreville police responding to a 911 call just before 9 a.m. discovered Zurick in the basement of his Luke Street home, where he was pronounced dead at 9:10, according to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office.
Zurick used his personal semi-automatic pistol, Union County Police Chief Daniel Vaniska said.
Zurick, who had not been charged in the inmates' Hollywood-style jailbreak, was due to be interviewed by police today about the escape, his lawyer said.
"He was very depressed and distraught over all the media attention," said Kenneth Burkert, a delegate for PBA Local 199, which represents officers at the jail. "He just couldn't believe what happened. He was a perfectionist."
Inmates Jose Espinosa and Otis Blunt, who remain at large, secretly chiseled holes in the cinder-block walls of their cells and hid their progress behind racy magazine photos before making a spectacular 25-foot leap to freedom Dec. 15
Otis Blunt, left, 32, of Toms River and Jose Espinosa, 20, of Elizabeth.
They left the note before departing, taunting Zurick and the other jailers with a hand-drawn smiley face and a hand with an upraised middle finger.
"Thank You Officer (Zurick) for the tools needed. You're a real Pal! Happy Holidays," one of them wrote. "Smile."
Zurick reported for work at 4 p.m. and discovered the two inmates were missing.
Espinosa, a member of the Bloods street gang, was to be sentenced this month for his role in a deadly 2005 drive-by shooting. Blunt was awaiting trial in the shooting of a Hillside convenience store manager.
Zurick leaves behind a wife and 4-year-old daughter and had worked as a corrections officer for 14 years, Burkert said. Vaniska said he was unsure whether anyone else was home at the time Zurick shot himself.
The escape sparked a sweeping shakeup at the jail, leading to the reassignment of the director and the firing of his top deputy.
Zurick today was supposed to go to Union County Police headquarters, where he was expected to detail what happened the day of the escape, said his lawyer, Michael Mitzner of Watchung.
The interview, Zurick's first with investigators, was purely related to possible administrative charges, ranging from suspension to termination, Vaniska said.
"We don't know what to think. It's strange. Just bizarre," said Vaniska, who did not know Zurick personally. "You wonder why people do things like this. It's very sad."
Mitzner stressed that Zurick did nothing wrong.
"For 14 years he had an unblemished record," Mitzner said. "It's just a shame. Obviously you are unhappy when you have an escape occur and your name gets mentioned. It's hard to figure what goes through one's mind."
Burkert called Zurick a "dedicated family man."
"I am totally devastated, " he said.