Convicted murderer arraigned on charges stemming from escape

A convicted murderer who escaped from authorities last month during a visit to Altoona Regional Medical Center was arraigned on a number of charges yesterday before Magisterial District Judge Fred Miller.
The 29-year-old man, Christopher Patrick Gerlach, was captured in Antis Township within hours of his escape on Nov. 16. Gerlach was a prisoner at SCI Houtzdale. Since his recapture, he was transferred to SCI Huntingdon. Gerlach is currently serving a life sentence for his role in a 1995 murder in Montgomery County.
The charges were consolidated and filed before Judge Fred Miller last Friday as a result of a court order issued by Blair County Judge Thomas G. Peoples, Jr. State police said the charges were consolidated because Gerlach’s escape, pursuit and eventual capture occurred in three different jurisdictions.
After his escape, Gerlach tied up two women and stole a car before he was recaptured after a three-hour manhunt. He was eventually apprehended in Antis Township at a residence on Grandview Road.
He got away from authorities while in a hospital bathroom. Police said he used a second door that the guard did not know existed. Police said Gerlach, who was unshackled, modified his prison jumpsuit to make it appear that he was a hospital orderly, then walked casually out one of the hospital’s main entrances and through a parking lot.
When his escape was discovered, a hospital employee spotted him, and a chase through town began. Police said he tied up two women in separate homes, stole a vehicle belonging to one of them and changed his outfit twice to escape detection.
Penn State Altoona and other schools were put under lockdown as the escape unfolded, as was the medium-security Houtzdale prison.
Gerlach was caught hiding in the basement of a third home, police said.
Prior to his capture, Gerlach had broken into residences in Altoona and Logan Township. Police said an Antis Township resident arrived in the area of her home while police were conducting search operations. She asked if some of the officers would accompany her to her residence. Police went to the woman’s home and checked the house. They found Gerlach hiding in the basement and he was taken into custody.
Gerlach was arraigned on several charges. A state police press release issued last week said Gerlach was charged with four counts of burglary, a first-degree felony; one count of robbery of a motor vehicle, first-degree felony; one count of escape, third-degree felony; four counts of criminal trespass, one count, third-degree felony, two counts, misdemeanor; two counts of theft by unlawful taking, one count, third-degree felony, two counts, misdemeanor and two misdemeanor counts, unlawful restraint.
Judge Miller said bail was set at a total of $750,000 unsecured. Miller said Gerlach applied for a public defender. The judge said a preliminary hearing was scheduled for next Tuesday, but the date was subject to change.
Gerlach was transported back to SCI Huntingdon after the arraignment.
(Editor’s note: Details from a previous Associated Press article were used in this story.)