FRANKLIN FURNACE, Ohio (WCMH) — A jailbreak at an Ohio correctional facility involved the escape of five prisoners, and the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office said one of them remains at large.
The Sheriff’s Office got an alert Saturday from the STAR Community Justice Center in Franklin Furnace that staff had witnessed several inmates escape by climbing the fence at the facility.
Sheriff David Thoroughman said on NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” the inmates escaped by using a bolt cutter, most likely thrown over a fence by 32-year-old Allie Angelo, to cut a hole in the fence.
Sheriff’s deputies and the Ohio State Patrol then began searching for the escapees.
Staff at the prison told the Sheriff’s Office they saw a woman near the fence before the escape. It was there that investigators found Angelo, who matched the woman’s description. When asked if she witnessed anything having to do with the escape, she told them no. The deputies detained her.
The Sheriff’s Office said it later discovered that Angelo had come to the prison with Matthew Sladen, her ex-husband, to help her new fiancé, Jeffrey Randle Fields, escape.
Before day’s end, authorities found two of the five escaped inmates. A deputy found Fields, 37, on Junior Furnace Road — about an hour’s walk from the correctional facility — and arrested him. OSHP troopers found another inmate, Clifford Tyler Morris, 33, on the same road and also took him into custody.
Sladen, 31, was found at a local Walmart and detained.
As of Saturday night, three inmates were still missing. Sunday morning, deputies went to Wheelersburg, which is only about a three-hour walk from the STAR Community Justice Center, after getting a report of two suspicious people.
Upon arrival, they found two men heading for the highway. The pair ran from the deputies, and Portsmouth police were called out to help, authorities said.
One of the escapees, Aaron Brigeman, 43, had been hiding in the woods and came out to walk on railroad property. The Sheriff’s Office said that’s where a deputy found him and detained him.
Brigeman gave up the location of the other inmate, the Sheriff’s Office said, telling the deputy to look near a mobile home. Authorities found the fourth inmate, Walker N. Pence, 22, hiding in the woods near the home.
The last inmate to escape — Thomas Charles Comberger, 46, of Wilmington — remained at large as of Monday. Thoroughman said they have notified community members and other law enforcement agencies, including in Wilmington, to be on the look out for Comberger.
“We are looking hard for this individual,” Thoroughman said of Comberger.
Thoroughman also noted Comberger was a “low-level,” and “nonviolent” offender, as were the other escapees.
Angelo and Sladen have been charged with crimes for allegedly aiding in the jailbreak.
The Sheriff’s Officer said all of the inmates will now face new charges for the escape.
Robert Allen, professor of homeland security at Tulane University, said the facility where the escape occurred likely had low-level security.
“These guys aren’t a threat to society, they probably got out of jail, looked at each other, and said, ‘So what?'” he said.
Allen said hopping a fence would be entirely possible without too much planning or effort.
“If they were trusties or something like that or they were on a work-release program, you could literally walk off and not be accounted for until rollcall,” he said.
Allen predicts the sheriff’s office will have the final escapee in custody in the coming days.
This is the third major jail or prison escape in recent months. Texas police say they shot and killed escaped inmate Gonzalo Lopez, who had been on the run for weeks, but only after he killed five people. And investigators are still searching for Kaitlin Armstrong, the woman accused of killing a popular cyclist in an alleged love triangle.
As for the recent inmate escapes across the country, Allen said, “I don’t think there’s a spike in jailbreaks. I think it is just something that is gathering attention.”