An inmate being held on an armed robbery charge in the McDuffie County Law Enforcement Center in Thomson escaped on Thanksgiving night, prompting an intense air and ground manhunt that ended with his capture Saturday night.
William Alan Busbee, 29, of North Augusta, S.C., who had been incarcerated in the local jail on armed robbery charges since mid-May, managed to elude dozens of officers from several different law enforcement agencies for nearly 45 hours. Mr. Busbee was spotted by a resident along Margarets Road shortly after 6 p.m. Saturday, according to McDuffie County Sheriff Logan Marshall.
Unice Harris, 43, held Mr. Busbee at bay until police arrived.
"I was sitting out in the yard and saw him," Mr. Harris said Tuesday. "I just crunk up the truck, drove down the driveway and told him to get on the ground, I had a gun and I was a police officer."
Liz Smith, owner of Little Gs, and a friend, Lynn Bishop, both of Thomson, were in the area to take supper to her husband, Jammie Smith, an officer with the Thomson Police Department, who was involved in the manhunt, when they saw Mr. Harris and Mr. Busbee.
"I knew it was him (the escaped inmate), because he had the orange jump suit," Mrs. Smith told The McDuffie Mirror at the scene. "I couldn't believe it was him at first."
Mr. Busbee, who now has been charged with escape, kept saying he was cold and hungry, Mrs. Smith recalled. She offered him the meal she had purchased for her husband. Mr. Busbee ate the food, while authorities were en route to take him into custody.
"Neither one of us were afraid of him," Mrs. Bishop said. "He just seemed tired, cold and hungry."A short while later, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Steve Foster arrived on the scene and took Mr. Busbee into custody. Agent Foster handcuffed the escapee until Sheriff Marshall and deputies could arrive. Mr. Busbee was then placed in the rear seat of a patrol car and taken back to the McDuffie County Law Enforcement Center by Deputy Marc Coy.
Agent Foster had been en route to process a crime scene at a house at the end of Lokey Road, where it was reported that the escapee had burglarized. Deputies from McDuffie, Columbia and Richmond counties left the Lokey Road area and converged along Margarets Road. Other agencies involved in the manhunt included the Thomson Police Department, Georgia State Patrol, Georgia Department of Corrections, Georgia Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division, Warren County Sheriff's Department, Warrenton Police Department, Glascock County Sheriff's Department and Wrens Police Department.
Sheriff Marshall expressed his gratefulness to the private citizen, as well as to all of the agencies that assisted the McDuffie County Sheriff's Department in the capture of Mr. Busbee.
"It was an outstanding law enforcement and community effort," Sheriff Marshall said. "Everybody worked really well together. I'm just relieved that this thing is over and Mr. Busbee is back in jail."
Meanwhile, Sheriff Marshall has asked the GBI to look into how the escape occurred, a probe that has not been completed. Gary Nicholson, agent in-charge of the GBI office in Thomson, said Monday that it could take two weeks for his office to complete the investigation.
GBI Special Agent Jimmy Talkington already has completed preliminary interviews, but follow-up interviews are pending, Agent Nicholson said.
Sheriff Marshall said Saturday night during a press conference that Mr. Busbee manged to escape from the detention center through an unlocked holding cell door about 10:20 p.m. Thanksgiving night. He later obtained a key and made his way through an open sally port door, which is used by lawmen when bringing an arrested person to the jail.
While the GBI is completing their investigation, Sheriff Marshall said he's also launched an internal probe. Officials have refused to name the jailers on duty at the time of the escape - or release any further details - until those reviews are complete.
Mr. Busbee was first taken into custody by the McDuffie County Sheriff's Department last May following an armed robbery of a Waffle House near Thomson. Deputy Marc Coy spotted the suspect's vehicle minutes later and gave chase. The chase turned into a high-speed pursuit between the suspect and lawmen from 10 other agencies. It ended when he crashed his pickup truck off Interstate 20 in Greene County.