CAUGHT: Inmate who overpowered jailer, stole sheriff’s truck nabbed after leading trail of officers on multi-county pursuit

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

Oct. 5, 2007 - A 12-hour, multi-county manhunt for an inmate who left a Hopkins County jailer shackled to a gate and took off in a Hopkins County Sheriff’s Office transport vehicle concluded with the inmate surrendering to authorities in Wood County this morning.

Staff Photo by Angela Pitts

Hopkins County Sheriff's Office Deputy Tanner Crump (second from left) allows escapee Joseph Leslie Meadows one last cigarette before he and jailers Terry Duncan (far left) and Jail Administrator Geno Casteneda take Meadows back into the county jail. 

Joseph Leslie Meadows, 25, of Mount Pleasant was taken into custody in Titus County earlier in the week for stealing items from a Hopkins County residence in August. He was sentenced Thursday afternoon to 10 years in prison for burglary of a habitation.

Meadows later was taken to the Hopkins County Memorial Hospital, and was being transported back to Hopkins County jail after 9 p.m. in the back seat of the patrol truck that had been converted into a transport vehicle. Meadows reached over the seat of the truck, which no longer has a cage like patrol vehicles, and pointed a sharp object at the corrections officer’s neck.

�The subject got his handgun and threatened him with that, kidnapped him,� Hopkins County Sheriff�s Chief Investigator Andy Chester said shortly after Meadows was apprehended Friday. "We�re not sure who drove, but they then went to a remote location off [FM] 69 south of [Interstate] 30. He then shackled [the officer] to a fence and took his vehicle."

The jailer, who kept a spare key, unlocked the shackles and freed himself, then walked to a nearby residence and called the sheriff’s office for help. 

According to radio traffic Thursday night, Meadows also took the jailer’s wallet, cell phone, 9 mm weapon and a safety vest.

Deputies alerted state troopers and began a manhunt immediately, sending another unit to collect the jailer. Neighboring law enforcement agencies, as well as authorities in Camp and Titus counties, where Meadows is known to frequent and have family, were “blanketed” with officers searching for the escapee.

Staff Photo by Angela Pitts

HCSO Chief Investigator Andy Chester (right)  and Investigator Charles Humphries examine the bullet hole in the windshield of the stolen sheriff’s transport truck.

Communication between agencies and officers was limited at times because the stolen sheriff’s truck had a police band radio inside tuned to at least one frequency. To an extent, officers were able able to utilize another frequency and cell phones when able, but some areas had no cell phone reception. 

The truck was spotted traveling east on I-30 by a trooper, and later near Lake Bob Sandlin. At one point in the night, Sheriff Butch Adams, Chester and HCSO Investigator Charles Humphries headed to Daingerfield, where Meadows had stopped to fuel the sheriff’s vehicle. The store clerk told officers Meadows identified himself, said he was an officer and handed her the county credit card. When the card was determined to be for another gas station, he left. He had on a white shirt and blue jeans, indicating he stopped somewhere to change clothes.

Believing he was continuing south, authorities notified Upshur and Greg county law enforcement officers. The truck was spotted a short while later on U.S. Highway 80 in the middle of Longview, traveling at a high rate of speed. Longview police began pursuing the truck toward Mineola on U.S. 80, traveling through Big Sandy and Hawkins. Officers from those cities also joined in the chase, which continued down an FM road north of Highway 80. The winding road intersected with FM 778, where Meadows apparently lost control of the truck. The vehicle continued through a privacy fence and struck a tree, narrowly missing a residence around 2 a.m. Friday.

Meadows ran from the truck into the wooded area nearby. Officers from Wood, Titus, Upshur and Wood conties, as well as Longview, Hawkins and Big Sandy police, Texas Department of Public Safety, and Hopkins County sheriff's officers converged on the area and set up a perimeter. A Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter and Texas Department of Corrections tracking dogs were also brought in later in the morning to try to locate the man.

Around 9:30 a.m., officers were advised of a possible sighting of Meadows. As all of the officers were called out of the wooded area between a pond and residence near Quitman to allow the tracking dogs to work the area, Meadows walked out at and surrendered.

�We appreciate all of the agencies and officers help,� Chester said following the arrest. "It was a long and intense night. Thanks to all who helped, as a result it ended safely with no one hurt."

Meadows was taken to Wood County jail, where he was arraigned on an escape charge, then transported to Hopkins County jail shortly before noon. He now faces felony charges for escape, aggravated assault of a peace officer, theft, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery. He could also face credit card abuse charges at a later date, according to Chester.

The jailer was reported to be in good condition Friday, albeit a bit sore from the incident. The pistol, two magazines and vest were recovered. The sheriff’s truck was recovered, and noted to have a bullet hole in the windshield, although no officers were believed to have been fired on.

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