An American man is in a coma in Thailand after dramatically breaking free of police custody and then shooting himself in the head as police closed in on him and his girlfriend, according to authorities.
On Monday, Bart Allen Helmus, 39, from Kentucky and his Thai girlfriend Sirinapa Wisetrit, 30, were in court in the city of Pattaya accused of trafficking 1 kilogram (35 ounces) of methamphetamine and carrying a gun, Thai police said at a press conference on Thursday. In Thailand, trafficking serious drugs – such as heroin and methamphetamine – can carry a sentence of life imprisonment or death.
The pair managed to escape from the court using a knife and a gun provided by a third man, who was in court on unrelated drugs charges, the commissioner-general of the Royal Thai Police, Chakthip Chaijinda, said. During the escape, Helmus allegedly stabbed a court official who is being treated for serious injuries.
The pair and the third man, 40-year-old Thai national Ton Ninthet, then fled in a getaway car, according to police. The couple were planning to escape to neighboring Cambodia, over 200 kilometers (124 miles) away, police said.
Following the escape, Thai police launched a three-day manhunt and issued an arrest warrant for the couple and Ninthet.
On Wednesday, police caught Ninthet in the southeastern Sa Kaeo province, which borders Cambodia. Later that afternoon, police found Helmus and Wisetrit hiding in a rural area in the same province. Police said Helmus had shot himself in the head, while Wisetrit had a graze on her forehead from where the bullet had hit her.
Helmus is in a Sa Kaeo hospital in a coma, while Wisetrit is also in hospital being treated for her injuries, police confirmed.
According to Chaijinda, the three suspects, Helmus, Wisetrit and Ninthet, hatched their escape plan after meeting during their court appearances. Ten of Ninthet’s family and friends allegedly helped the trio escape, using five different escape cars, police said. All 10 have been arrested for helping the trio escape, and are due to appear in court on Friday.
CNN’s Julia Hollingsworth wrote from Hong Kong. Journalist Angie Puranasamriddhi reported from Pattaya, Thailand.