Two jail escapees still at large

LISBON — Two inmates escaped from the Columbiana County Jail Sunday night by breaking out a window and using a device to cut through the fence surrounding the facility.

Michael W. Hover Jr, 28, last known address Third Street, Salem, and Anthony R. Wagoner, 38, Cadmus Street, East Liverpool, remain at large after escaping from the minimum-security misdemeanor wing of the county jail about 11:30 p.m.

Sheriff Ray Stone said Hover and Wagoner along with a third inmate, Michael Conzett, escaped by breaking a window in the shower area of the one-story facility. Once outside, they used a device to cut through the security fence and crawl out. Hover and Wagoner ran down the hill to County Home Road and left in a passing vehicle, while the Conzett apparently changed his mind and returned to the facility. Conzett has reportedly confessed.

The three were present when the jail staff performed a head count at 11 p.m., but the staff did not learn they were missing until when the next head count was performed about 7 a.m. Monday. Stone did not know if the staff in the misdemeanor wing check on inmates periodically while they are supposed to be in their rooms, but surveillance cameras show the escape occurred about 11:30 p.m.

Stone said they have yet to find the device used to cut through the fence, and they may have taken it with them. All tools were accounted for at the jail, and Stone suggested the device may have been placed by the fence for them to use as part of what was apparently a planned escape.

The minimum-security wing where Hover and Wagoner were incarcerated is generally for those convicted of non-violent misdemeanor crimes, such as drunk driving, theft and low-level drug offenses. The men are not believed to be armed or dangerous.

Warden Mike Curley said he was not at liberty to discuss the matter and referred questions to GEO Group, the private company under contract with county commissioners to run the jail. A new company, Correctional Solutions Group, is scheduled to take over operations July 1.

GEO spokesman Christopher V. Ferriera said the escapees were being held at the minimum-security wing for “a probation violation and low-level drug offense. Local law enforcement was immediately notified and there is no threat to the local community,” he said in an email response.

The Journal checked its records and discovered the last escape occurred in August 2008, a month before Stone took office. The four escapees were able to exploit a flaw in the jail’s design that allowed then to gain access to the roof through a maintenance closet and an 18-inch wide crawl space. Once on the roof, they jumped 15 feet to the parking lot. All were captured the next day.

As a result of that escape, the jail operator at the time changed its policy for counting inmates, conducting security checks and inspections. The internal review of the escape also found that some of the policies were not being followed by corrections officers.