Hector Frausto, Chris Handon, Steven Locklear and John Phillips broke out of the Hoke County jail Tuesday night, using sheets and blankets to drop out of a window.
Deputies found Phillips Wednesday morning in Hoke County after he tried to steal from a local store. But there has been no sign of the other three.
A convoy of officers has been following the leads, going door-to-door, looking for inmates that Sheriff Hubert Peterkin described as "dangerous."
Many leads turned up empty, though one early one paid off.
Phillips did not get very far; he was caught just a few blocks away at a discount store. The store manager said he was stealing a pair of shoes.
"I thought: 'Just another poor fool out here trying to make a quick buck,'" store manager Leanne Knapp said. "And here's this guy they tell me escaped from prison."
The four inmates all broke out of the jail annex. They made their escape over a barbed-wire fence, leaving their orange jumpsuits behind.
Frausto, who was arrested a few months ago, has been on the run before. He is accused of kidnapping a young girl whom he supposedly got pregnant and fleeing to Mexico.
As the authorities kept up a thorough search Wednesday, Hoke County resident Jymecia Gibbs said: "I just want to be safe."
While Gibbs and other residents were caught off-guard, Peterkin was not. He has been begging for more jailers to staff the annex properly.
The inmates took advantage of a lack of guards, the sheriff said. Only three jailers were on duty Tuesday night because of the department's budget constraints.
"It's one officer to every 23 inmates," Peterkin said. "Does that make sense? Itell you, no. It does not."
In fact, the state paid the jail a surprise visit recently and found the annex was not in compliance with state law.
And so, the sheriff hopes his next search is for more jailers.
Bob Lewis, head of the Jail and Detention Section of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said Wednesday he had a recent conference call with Peterkin and County Manager Mike Wood in which he told Wood about the shortage of jailers.
"The essence of a jail is to protect the community," Lewis said. "If they're getting out ... you're not doing it."
Peterkin said the jail's annex is built to hold about 40 inmates but typically holds more. He said the jail and the annex are built for about 71 inmates, but regularly house 90 at a time.
A jailer is supposed to be stationed in a booth across from the annex. But no one was in it at the time of the escape.
Lewis said Wednesday that his office had specifically recommended that the county hire jailers to staff the station.
Peterkin said he asked the Hoke County commissioners in September for four more jailers after receiving the jail inspector's report. His request was denied.
"I hate to be the one to say it, but I told them," Peterkin said. "I warned them."
Wood said the commissioners turned down the plea for more jailers, but increased his annual budget from $1.5 million last year to $1.9 million this year. The jail budget jumped from $659,000 to $727,000.
The money paid for a 10 percent pay increase for deputies and six more cars for the sheriff's department, among other things, Wood said.
"The commissioners have been very good to the sheriff," Wood said.
Lewis, who has attacked county jail issues with renewed vigor since a jail fire last year in Mitchell County killed eight inmates, said he believes Hoke needs a new jail.
Understaffed jails with too many inmates make managing emergencies more difficult and conditions generally less safe, Lewis said. About 70 percent of the state's jails hold more than their capacity on a given day, he has said.
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