By Shereen Siewert

A manhunt is underway for two men who escaped from a Wisconsin prison early Thursday, according to a statewide alert from the Wisconsin Crime Alert Network.

Police say James R. Newman and Thomas E. Deering escaped the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage by climbing over two security fences. At about 5 a.m., staff at the prison contacted the Portage Police Department and Columbia County Sheriff’s Department, and officers combed the neighborhood using drones and K9 units .

Investigators say the prisoners stopped at a local hotel and were picked up by a Portage Cab driver, who transported the men to Poynette. Initial information is that the inmates already left the Portage area by the time police were notified.

Police say both suspects likely traveled out of the Poynette area earlier this morning.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office is being assisted by the FBI, US Marshal’s Office, Department of Justice-Division of Criminal Investigations, the Wisconsin State Patrol, Portage Police Department, and the Poynette Police Department. CCI is fully cooperating and assisting with this investigation.