EAD > Police Comb Area For Missing Inmates
Police Comb Area For Missing Inmates
By TERRILL ALBEE Staff Writer
The second day of a massive search for two inmates who escaped from the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport, Sunday, shifted to Newport Center, Tuesday.
Vermont state police Lt. Peter Johnson, commander of the Derby barracks and coordinator of the manhunt, said the search was moved from around the prison, where it had been focused, to Newport Center at around 8 a.m. when a law enforcement officer spotted a man running into the woods near the bottom of Coburn Hill.
An intensive all-day scouring of the woods and fields between Coburn Hill on Routes 100 and 105, Vance Hill and the Lake Road involved over 40 officers from the state police, Orleans County Sheriff's Department, Newport City police, Vermont Fish and Wildlife, prison guards, and four canine unit dogs, as well as a Vermont National Guard helicopter and a fixed wing federal aircraft.
No clues were found of the whereabouts of escapees Craig Whitman and James Lertola, nor of the mystery man who spurred the search.
Johnson said officers had first gathered to further search the area around the prison at 6 a.m. when they learned Orleans County Chief Deputy Sheriff Bruce Warner, a four-decade veteran of local law enforcement, had spotted a man apparently dressed in something black with a hood and sitting on a guardrail near the bottom of Coburn Hill.
When the man saw Warner's cruiser, he jumped down an embankment and ran into the woods, authorities said.
Warner said he first learned of the man being spotted at that location from a motorist in Westfield who had seen him.
He said the man leaped over the bank when he saw Warner's approaching cruiser. He said a school bus driver had also seen the man sitting on the guardrail, and saw that he had a goatee. Whitman, according to mug shots distributed by prison officials, also sports a goatee and mustache. "Three different people said they saw the same thing," he said.
Johnson said because no further sightings nor clues had been found in the area surrounding the prison, he moved the search to the new location.
"We started with the dogs there, but given the weather and conditions, we didn't pick up any tracks." He then sent teams of searchers into the woods, and later lined them up for a series of sweeps through the several-hundred acres encompassing the manhunt.
In the meantime, he set up a perimeter of officers, stationed 100 feet apart, around the area of the search, but it proved fruitless. The two inmates were still at large by late evening, and no evidence was found that they were in the area.
At that time, Johnson scaled back the search while increasing state police auto patrols. He was also going to bring in fresh police dogs, he said.
"Everybody is tired," he explained, pointing out that some of the officers had been working 20-hour shifts, getting four or five hours of sleep, and then returning to the search.
Many parents picked up their children at the school located in Newport Center village, and teachers and staff accompanied those students home who lived close enough.
Both Lertola and Whitman are listed as dangerous and unpredictable. Lertola is described as being 6 feet 2 inches tall, 165 lbs., with brown hair and brown eyes and wearing a white tank top, green Levis and hiking boots. He is serving a 5- to 33-year sentence for three escapes, grand larceny, kidnapping, assault, robbery and burglary.
Whitman, meanwhile, is described as being 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighing 180 lbs., with brown hair and blue eyes, and wearing a white tank top, blue jeans, and white sneakers when last seen. He is serving a 2- to 12-year sentence for violation of probation from a charge of second-offense drunken driving; grand larceny, counterfeiting and three counts of conspiracy. He also has a federal detainer for drug trafficking.
They were discovered missing from the prison Sunday during a 10 p.m. head count. A breached fence near the construction area of the prison addition is where authorities suspect the two escaped.