Local News

Chatham Jail Break Was Planned, Authorities Believe

Posted February 5, 2008 5:23 a.m. EST
Updated February 5, 2008 5:55 p.m. EST

— Authorities on Tuesday scaled back their search for an inmate who escaped late Monday from the Chatham County Detention Center. They began an active investigation into how the escape was possible.

Stewart Wendell Baldwin, 30, of 130 Mann's Chapel Road, and four other inmates escaped after overpowering detention officers at the facility. Authorities said they believe the escape was planned.

"When [a detention officer] entered the cell block, he was overpowered by five people who were hiding," said Maj. Gary Blankenship with the Chatham County Sheriff's Office.

The inmates went for the officer's keys and radio, changed clothes and left through a side door and used a coat to scale a tall fence topped with razor wire.

"Obviously, when these things happen, you have to evaluate what occurred down there, and part of it is looking at our internal security system," Blankenship said.

Authorities were able to capture the four other inmates near the jail, but authorities believe Baldwin might have made it out of the perimeter that police established.

"Right now, it's like a needle in a haystack," Blankenship said.

"He has family in North Chatham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro," he added. "Honestly, he could be in those areas. We've contacted those jurisdictions."

Baldwin was being held at the center on felony drug charges and a charge of possession of a firearm by a felon. Authorities said they do not think Baldwin is a danger to the public unless he is approached.

Anyone with information about Baldwin's whereabouts is asked to call the Chatham County Sheriff's Office at 919-542-2811 or their local law enforcement officials.

Three of the other four inmates – Adrian Carlos Reyes, 24, Kyle Evan Kettrey, 22, and Brian Keith Blackwell, 32 –  were arrested at a traffic checkpoint Tuesday morning.

The trio was captured north of Pittsboro on U.S. Highway 15-501 after they went to a woman's house and asked her for a ride to Chapel Hill. Authorities were investigating whether the woman had a connection to any of the men.

A fourth inmate, James Austin Tarrer, 16, was detained not long after the escape, authorities said.

All four were taken to Central Prison in Raleigh, where they were being held Tuesday.

Seven schools in Chatham County operated on a two-hour delay Tuesday morning as authorities searched for Baldwin.

"I'm glad they did that," said parent Julie Roland. "I think that was the right thing to do. I think if they wouldn't have done that, they'd have a lot of angry parents."