As the search continued Thursday for a fugitive who failed to return from a 24-hour furlough from the Yakima County jail, a niggling question arose about the wisdom of releasing him to visit his dying mother.

Namely, was his mother really dying?

In a call late Thursday to the Yakima Herald-Republic, Linda Cook said she is ill and that her 29-year-old son, Jacob John Lucey, was granted a furlough because he’s going to prison and she is dying from degenerative arthritis and cancer.

Asked whether she has terminal cancer, Cook said: “Yes. I don’t care to discuss that.”

A spokesman for the Yakima Police Department questioned the severity of Cook’s health and said she spoke to detectives and appeared to them to be “alive and well.”

“Supposedly she has some sort of slow, long-term cancer. We heard this same story 10-plus years ago,” Capt. Rod Light said. “She’s up, she’s not bedridden at all. She’s walking, talking. She’s fine.”

Local authorities, aided by U.S. marshals and other federal agents, have been searching for Lucey since Tuesday, when he was linked to an armed carjacking incident over the weekend.

Up until then, authorities did not know Lucey technically had been on the lam since Nov. 1, when he failed to return from a 24-hour furlough that was granted the same day he pleaded guilty to several car theft charges.

The furlough request has infuriated police, who say Lucey is dangerous and never should have been released. Lucey spent the past 8½ years in prison for a 2002 shooting in Union Gap and had already violated parole once before when he went on a spree of vehicle thefts over the summer.

Superior Court Judge Blaine Gibson granted Lucey’s furlough request during a hearing Oct. 30 in which Lucey pleaded guilty to several car theft charges in exchange for a sentencing recommendation of 43-57 months.

A recording of the hearing shows that Lucey’s attorney, Tim Hall, asked the court for a furlough for his client on the representation that Lucey’s mother is “in the process of dying” and is not “expected” to survive her son’s prison sentence.

Asked by Gibson if she approved, deputy prosecutor Susie Silverthorn said she did, noting the request was made only after Lucey’s family was unable to post bail that had been drastically reduced to allow for Lucey’s temporary release.

“I guess she took a turn for the worse,” Silverthorn told the court, referring to Lucey’s mother.

No medical evidence or testimony was submitted with the request. Instead, Gibson warned the defendant he could face additional charges if he failed to return.

“It also might affect what a judge does at your sentencing. Do you understand that?” Gibson said.

“Yes, sir,” Lucey replied.

Light, the YPD spokesman, said Cook has a criminal record and that she and members of her family have been known to his colleagues for years.

He characterized the claim that she is dying as a “ruse” that should have been received more skeptically.

“It’s incredibly disturbing. It doesn’t appear that anybody did anything to confirm anything. Even if she was terminal and on her deathbed, (Lucey) could have been furloughed to visit, but it should have been leg irons and belly chains with a guard.”

County Prosecutor Jim Hagarty said furlough requests are not uncommon and are occasionally granted, especially in cases of medical treatment that saves taxpayer money.

Hagarty said that in his experience, prisoners usually honor the terms of their furloughs and return voluntarily and on time. He said the Lucey case points to the need for a pre-trial unit that can scrutinize requests for bail and release pending trial.

“I think that for the short term ... everybody’s going to be running gun-shy, judges too,” he said.

Cook, meanwhile, disputed that Lucey committed a carjacking at gunpoint over the weekend and said she feared for her son, whom she pleaded with to turn himself in.

She said Lucey was at her home for most of the past two weeks and has an alibi for the night in question.

“I’m not saying he’s a saint, but he’s not as bad as they’re making him out to be, either,” she said.

Chris Bristol can be reached at 509-577-7748 or cbristol@yakimaherald.com.