County jail escapees recaptured
By KELI JACOBI News-T imes Staff Two inmates who escaped from the Union County Jail earlier this week were taken into custody without incident late Tuesday, according to Union County Sheriff Ken Jones.
Karl E. Pearce, 17, of Minden, La., and Lester D. Charles, 20, of Spearsville, La., were found in a house in Taylor, La., according to Jones. Authorities were tipped to the location early Tuesday, Jones said, and the pair will be extradited from a jail in Bienville Parish today.
A third escapee, Marcus Hicks, 31, of Strong, was captured Monday night.
The three inmates employed similar tactics as used by six men who escaped from the county jail last March. Jones said the inmates breached security when they broke through a cinder block wall leading into a plumbing crawl space from a shared jail cell and climbed over wire fencing using blankets. They escaped in the pre-dawn hours Monday morning.
Jones blamed faulty construction and the jailís age as part of the reason the breach occurred.
At least two former members of a committee who served before and during the building of the nearly 16-year-old facility confi rmed the sheriffís allegations, saying that fi nancial challenges plagued construction of the jail from the outset, though both stopped short of saying jail security may have been affected by cutting fi - nancial corners. Both agreed that the Quorum Court faced tough decisions in order to stay within the fi ve million or so budgeted for its construction in 1991.
"It seems as if maybe the fi rst bids that came back were over budget and they had to cut some things out," said former committee member Karl Brummett. "I donít remember the details about what those things were, but the taxpayer has gotten a real good 15- or 16-year deal out of this thing before the inmates have fi gured out that thereís a way out of there."
Brummett said this yearís rash of escapes reinforces what he suspected all along Ė that substandard work combined with the age of the facility have created a situation which will only get worse with time.
"The fi ddlerís calling and now itís time to pay the fi ddler," he said. "Itís like having a car with over 100,000 miles on it. Sure, itíll run, but youíre going to have to keep sinking money into it and itís never quite the same as having a brand new one."
"I personally think what we paid for it and what weíve gotten out of it is certainly money well spent, but this would be a good time to look at what can be done to improve security," said former committee chair Don Williams.
"A lot of what we put in 16 years ago is outdated and hard to repair even with money. The money we spent was a lot of money at the time, but we got a bargain for what was built."
Jones told the News-Times on Tuesday that he was drafting a letter asking Quorum Court members to consider allocating an additional $200,000 in county funds to address security issues at the jail.
Brummett and Williams said the primary work of the jail committee in the early 1990s was to increase public aware ness of the need for a new jail and to raise funds for it through support of a tempo rary tax.
Construction on the jail was delayed when bids came in about one million more than anticipated. Lowest bidder, McInnis Brothers Construc tion Co., now based in Mind en, La., offered to build the jail at a cost of $6,358,000 Ė about $983,000 more than the coun ty had to spend at the time.
Rather than re-bid the con struction, architects with Cromwell, Truemper, Levy, Thompson, Woodsmall, Inc., of Little Rock (now known simply as Cromwell) advised former county judge Mike Du mas they would re-draft their plans. But weather problems pushed full completion of the project to late September 1991.
Bob Archer, a quorum court member at the time of the jailís construction, said offi cials hired Jim Hargett to oversee the jailís construction because of concerns which had arisen about halfway through the jailís completion.
"We thought the architec tural fi rm we had hired would see that the building was be ing constructed according to its plans, but we were told that was not part of the con tract. So, we felt like we need ed somebody that could look at what was going on periodi cally," Archer said.
"A s for the shoddiness of the work, I couldnít say with out reservation it was shoddy because I donít know much about the details of the con struction. But Jim (Hargett) reported to us every time we met and I was comfortable with his inspections," said Ar cher.
Although Hargett at the time said he was "reasonably pleased" with the progress on the jail, he declined to com ment for the News-Times Tuesday, only saying, "I was very unpopular with the con struction company and the ar chitectural fi rm."
Neither the Cromwell fi rm nor McInnis Brothers returned calls from the News-Times on Tuesday.