Quick thinking by an observant Forest Park auxiliary police officer led to the arrest of two escaped Cook County jail inmates in Oak Park early Sunday morning. James Falkman, 29, was driving home from his job as a dispatcher for the West Suburban Consolidated Dispatch Center just after 6:30 a.m. Sunday when he spotted the two men and alerted an Oak Park police officer.

The two men were among six inmates being held in the supposedly super-maximum security Special Incarceration Unit at the jail who escaped after a seventh inmate was able to overpower the lone guard on duty. David Earnest, 38, was awaiting trial on aggravated murder charges. Arnold Joyner, 42, was being held on theft and prior escape charges.

Besides Joyner and Earnest, missing inmates included Tyrone Everhart, 28, charged with aggravated kidnapping and attempted escape, Michael Macintosh, 30, arrested for aggravated battery with possession of a firearm; Erin Bernard, 22, arrested for armed robbery, and Francisco Romero, 23, who has been in jail for 4½ years awaiting trial for murder.

All six men were back in custody by early Monday morning.

Falkman, an Oak Park resident and five-year auxiliary Forest Park police officer, had just turned north onto Ridgeland at Lake Street when he saw two men dressed in tan pants and white T-shirts walk out of an alley. His suspicions aroused, Falkman did a U-turn and drove back westbound on Lake to the Pilgrim Congrgational parking lot, where he’d seen a police squad parked.

Meanwhile the two escaped inmates had turned onto Lake and were walking westbound, but began walking back eastbound when they saw the squad car.

Falkman alerted Officer Dawn Carver to his suspicions. She drove over and stopped the pair just north of the el viaduct on Ridgeland. When she got out of her squad, though, the two men bolted in different directions.

Falkman said Carver pursued one man under the viaduct, while the other ran by him. Falkman then exited his car and ordered the man to get on the ground. He complied, Falkman said, for about 20 seconds, before getting up again and running toward Lake Street.

At that point Carver drove by and followed Joyner onto the athletic fields to the west of the ice skating rink. Falkman said that as he watched from Lake Street, Carver caught Joyner by the southeast field backstop and arrested him. Earnest was taken into custody around the same time on the other side of the train viaduct. That wasn’t the end of things, though”Falkman’s actions triggered an intense manhunt involving over 150 police officers over the next three-plus hours. Earnest and Joyner reportedly first told Oak Park police that all six escaped inmates got off a westbound train in Oak Park. That was later proved to be untrue, but Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley, taking no chances, set up a command center across from Ridgeland Commons.

Forest Park police officers, including the department’s canine unit, were called in to assist two full Oak Park shifts and their SWAT team and detective’s bureau in the search, as well as in traffic control. They joined officers from a number of other jurisdictions, including State, Chicago, Cook County Sheriff, and Chicago Transit police, and the U.S. Marshall’s Service.

“We got a lot of help from a lot of people,” said Oak Park Deputy Chief Bob Scianna.

Over at the West Suburban Consolidated Dispatch Center, Falkman’s colleagues were working just as intensly. The midnight shift was just getting off duty when Falkman spotted the escapees, and WSCDC supervisor Vanessa Underwood asked two telecommunicators from that shift to stay on to assist the five morning shift dispatchers, who were deluged with radio traffic.

WSCDC Deputy Director Ron Gross said Monday he was proud of his staff.

“They did an outstanding job, not that that’s unusual for them. They worked so well together. I’m very pleased.”

So were Oak Park police brass, who contacted Gross Monday to express their appreciation.

“They were very pleased,” said Gross.

Oak Park police were also quite pleased with Falkman.

“It was more than impressive,” said Scianna, who noted that he sent an e-mail to Gross. “It’s a credit to his professionalism as a dispatcher”to not only recognize the suspects, but to help facilitate their apprehension.”

Forest Park Police Chief Jim Ryan, a veteran officer with over 30 years of law enforcement experience, declined to comment on the weekend’s events in the absence of permission from Village Administrator Michael Sturino, who didn’t return numerous phone calls from the Review seeking that permission.

While all the drama was going on, the person who had triggered it all, Falkman, was home trying to get some sleep. He had a double shift to work later that afternoon.

Asked if he managed to catch any shuteye Sunday, Falkman said with a half-laugh, “No. Not really.”