COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina inmate broke out of a maximum-security prison using wire cutters apparently flown in by drone, officials said Friday, describing a new and devilishly hard-to-stop means of escape.
Convicted kidnapper Jimmy Causey, 46, was recaptured at a Texas motel before daybreak, more than two days after bolting to freedom in a plot worthy of a Hollywood script. It was the second time in 12 years that he escaped.
This time, he used a smuggled-in cellphone to coordinate the delivery of the breakout tools, investigators said. Then, with dusk approaching on the Fourth of July, he cut through four fences and left a dummy in his bed that fooled his guards. He got an 18-hour head start.
When he was caught, he had about $47,000 in cash, an ID card and two guns, authorities said.
“We believe a drone was used to fly in the tools that allowed him to escape,” South Carolina Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said. He said investigators were still trying to confirm that, and he didn’t elaborate on why they believe a drone was involved.
But an official aerial photo of the prison shows rings of tall fences and an expanse of more than 50 yards between the prison perimeter and the cellblocks, making it unlikely someone could have thrown or catapulted tools to him.
Kevin Tamez, a 30-year law enforcement veteran who consults on prison security as managing partner of the New Jersey-based MPM Group, said he wasn’t aware of any other U.S. prison escapes aided by drones.
Tamez said that delivering something heavy such as wire or bolt cutters via drone would require a sophisticated plan and a powerful machine.
“They have to land for you to get the contraband off of them,” he said. “They can’t drop it like a bomb.”
Tamez said there is no easy way for prisons to protect against the use of small, unmanned aircraft, other than hiring more guards to watch the fences.
Stirling said the state is spending millions to install netting at prisons to prevent people from throwing things over, but confessed that won’t stop drones.
“Now they’re going to fly over the nets,” he said. “So what do we do next?”
A tip led Texas Rangers to a motel room in Austin where Causey was found sleeping around 4 a.m. Friday, authorities said. Texas officials released a photo of a handgun, shotgun, four cellphones and stacks of cash found with Causey about 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) from the Lieber Correctional Institution prison near Charleston.