Russell escapees used iron bar, maintenance hatch, ladder, got help from family, sheriff says

Joe Paull jpaull@ledger-enquirer.com
Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor stands with officials who represent regional law enforcement offices Monday morning at a press conference detaling the escape and capture of three inmates last week.
Joe Paull jpaull@ledger-enquirer.com Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor stands with officials who represent regional law enforcement offices Monday morning at a press conference detaling the escape and capture of three inmates last week.

An iron bar, a cinderblock wall, a maintenance hatch and a misplaced ladder.

These were the keys that enabled three Russell County Jail inmates briefly to escape last week, kicking off a massive manhunt that precluded their venturing beyond the ever-tightening ring of law enforcement agencies tracking them down, Russell Sheriff Heath Taylor said today.

Adam Wesley Barringer, John Curtis Hendrix and Charles Smith were by routine given time outside their individual cells Friday night when about 8:30 p.m. they used a piece of angle iron from a window to breach a cinderblock wall separating a cell from a maintenance closet, Taylor said. Once in the closet, they broke through a maintenance hatch used to access the jail’s attic for maintaining utilities, and from there were able to get into the jail yard outside, Taylor said. That’s where they found a ladder left by construction workers building an addition to the jail. They propped it against a rear corner of the fence, and found it was tall enough for them to climb over without sustaining significant injury from the fence’s razor wire, Taylor said.

They then ran around the jail’s south side, showing up on jail surveillance cameras and dashed across U.S. 431 and into the woods on the other side.

Smith soon went his own way, but Barringer and Hendrix waited for help, said Taylor, who gave this account of the events to follow:

Before breaking out, Barringer used a jail telephone designated for inmate use to call his mother in Phenix City to ask for a ride. The mother, Loretta Ann Singletary, sent Christopher Lee Barringer, another son, to pick them up.

The brother took the two to the home of one of Singletary’s coworkers, Audrey Lucille of 1807 6th Court, Phenix City, where the escapees got a change of clothes and a loaded shotgun before the brother had them hide in his car trunk and took them out Sandfort Road to near Findlater Road, where in fear of being stopped by authorities he dropped them off in the woods.

The two were trying to get to an abandoned mobile home they couldn’t find in the dark. Instead they spent much of Friday sneaking through the trees, hiding from the police helicopter and officers cruising the streets. Their time outside the woods was a brief respite. Authorities arrested the brother around midnight Thursday at his home at 911 19th St. in Phenix City. He’s charged with facilitating an escape.

Separated from the other two, Smith kept traveling on foot, hiking to the Ramsey Road area of Ladonia, where he first broke into a home to steal a soldier’s camouflage uniform, then broke into a vacant house where he hid in the attic as officers acting on a neighbor’s tip closed in. He came out fighting, but was soon subdued.

That was around noon Friday. About that same time, authorities arrested Singletary, Barringer’s mother, at the 911 19th St. home she shares with her other son. She also is charged with facilitating an escape, as is her coworker Audrey Lucille.

Sometime Friday afternoon, Barringer and Hendrix came out of the woods along 33rd Avenue off Sandfort Road, where they were picked up by a Russell County resident driving a black Lexus. They told the motorist their car had broken down and they needed a ride, which the driver gave them.

Again a witness’ suspicions were aroused, and authorities again were tipped off, this time told to look for a vehicle matching that description.

They found it about 4:20 p.m., headed south on U.S. 431 in front of a Marathon truck stop within a mile of the Russell County Jail. Three sheriff’s officers recognized the escapees in the Lexus, stopped it and took the two into custody.

Along with Smith, each is charged with second-degree escape, a felony that without prior offenses would carry a penalty of from two to 20 years in prison. The facilitating an escape charge their allies face carries a penalty of one to 10 years in jail.

The Russell County Jail remains on lockdown, its construction project suspended as the sheriff’s office re-evaluates security. Taylor said metal sheets will be installed in the cinderblock wall the inmates breached. He said other cells do not have the same deficiency.

Barringer, 30, was convicted of murder last week. He faced life in prison with no chance of parole for the October 2010 fatal shooting of Keith William Farmer, 28. His sentencing was scheduled for next month.

Hendrix, 27, was being held on theft and marijuana charges. Smith, 41 who tried to escape the jail in December, was held for burglary, court records state.

As a result of his breaking into homes after his escape, Smith now faces charges of third-degree burglary, Taylor said.