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News 15-hour manhunt ends without incident

Buster Lee BiddixTwo Macon County inmates spent nearly 15 hours on the run Friday morning after scaling a fence at the Macon County Detention Center in the wee hours of the morning.

Around 1:30 a.m. on Friday, Buster Lee Biddix and Richard Frank Sanford Jr., scaled a fence at the detention center using the handle of a plastic spray bottle to hold down the Constantine razor wire that lines the jail’s fencing.

The two men were considered “trustees” and were on work detail at the jail when they made the escape. “At night 'trustees' are used to clean the facility, such as mop, wash and dry clothes, clean food trays from supper that are hauled back in the morning when they deliver breakfast, cleaning of the law enforcement center and various other cleaning that needs to be done and cannot be done during regular hours due to other things being conducted,” said Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland.

According to Holland, the men had used the phone earlier on Thursday to arrange for someone to pick them up at a specific location after they scaled the fence.

As detention officers made checks around the facility Friday morning and became aware of the escape, a full-fledged search was immediately launched. The search area was significantly pinpointed after two men dressed all in black darted across the four-lane highway in the south end of the county in front of a Macon County Sheriff’s Deputy patrol vehicle.

Holland, with the help of the Franklin fire departments and the MAMA helicopter, set up a command center at the Welcome Center on the Georgia Road.

With the help of the MCSO canine unit, the search radius was narrowed down to two miles, which allowed the inmates to be taken back into custody shortly after 4 p.m.

Richard Frank Sanford Jr.“We were able to locate a residence that someone was using a phone to call out on,” said Holland. “As deputies were approaching the residence a highway patrol helicopter hovered over the residence in case someone ran from the residence as we approached. Deputies made entry into residence and found both suspects who immediately surrendered.”

As a precautionary measure, Holland worked with Macon County School system personnel to place six schools in the district on lockdown.

“As a result of the escape I made the recommendation to Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin for 'lockdowns' at various schools. The lockdowns were not all at the same time and additional schools were added as we learned additional information about the suspects we felt a need to add schools,” said Holland.

Dr. Baldwin focused on working with the sheriff’s department and as students arrived at school on Friday, only three schools were on lockdown. “The decision was made to lockdown/ high alert South Macon, East Franklin, and Union Academy at around 7:30 a.m,” said Baldwin. “The Sheriff’s Department called with information regarding the escaped inmates and advised that we go into 'lockdown' at those three schools. We immediately complied.

“At approximately 8:30 a.m., the sheriff and the school system received information that indicated that Mountain View Intermediate should also be included in the lockdown,” said Baldwin. “Shortly after MVI locked down, we added Macon Middle School due to its proximity to MVI. At 9:30 a.m. we received similar information regarding Franklin High School and locked that school down as well.”

The sheriff’s department along with Franklin fire departments and the MAMA helicopter set up a command center at the Welcome Center on the Georgia Road during the search for the escaped inmates. Photos by Vickie Carpenter & Brittney ParkerBaldwin noted that the central office secured each school site and additional officers were immediately placed on campus. The district worked to stabilize the situation and to have as much information as possible before notifying parents. “As we prepared to notify parents throughout the morning, the circumstances would change. We notified parents once the situation stabilized and we were comfortable that no additional schools were going to be added,” said Baldwin.

According to Baldwin, with this being the first incident of its kind, the school system will use it to improve the process and work to ensure that all students are safe and parents are notified in the event anything similar is to happen. “I was impressed with how well teachers, parents and student handled the emergency on Friday,” said Baldwin. “For the most part, parents were very understanding that the lockdowns were in the interest of student safety, the students cooperated, and the teachers handled the situation professionally. I am also appreciative of the additional law enforcement presence at each of the schools. We will learn from this incident and work to make our schools safer.”

Both Biddix and Sanford were being held on misdemeanor offenses at the time of the escape. Biddix was serving a 120-day sentence for misdemeanor possession of stolen goods and driving while license revoked and Sandford was serving a six- to eight-month sentence for attempted breaking and entering.

After being returned to custody, Biddix and Sanford were both charged with breaking and entering, larceny after breaking and entering and possession of stolen goods/property. Sanford Jr.’s arrest warrant states that he broke into a building on Chodl Lane owned by James and Ruby Souter that is used for rental property. Sanford Jr. allegedly stole flour and sugar from the home. He was also charged with misdemeanor larceny and possession of stolen goods for stealing a brown inmate jail uniform.

In addition to the charges against the escaped inmates, charges were filed on Tuesday against Karen Sanford and Richard Sanford for aiding in the inmates’ escape. Karen Sanford was arrested Tuesday and charged with resisting public officer and Harboring /aiding a fugitive. She was also charged with providing the fugitives with a phone and clothing. Sanford was also arrested for resisting a public officer because he too provided officers with false information regarding the inmates escape.

“We are in the process of conducting a full internal review of this incident and will file additional charges against anyone that may have assisted them during their escape,” said Holland. “While it is unfortunate we had an escape. I am extremely proud of the hard work and professionalism that everyone from my agency showed. Some of the officers worked almost 24 straight hours without sleep and refused to go home until we had the escapees in custody. Each and every officer and each agency that assisted in this search played an active part in a successful and safe apprehension of these two suspects.”


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