EATONTON, Ga. (AP) — A sheriff said police officers throughout Georgia were searching Tuesday for two inmates who somehow got past their cage inside a prison bus, killed two guards and got away.
Donnie Russell Rowe, 43, and Ricky Dubose, 24, overpowered the guards around 6:45 a.m. as 33 inmates were being driven between prisons, Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills told reporters. One of the two inmates then shot and killed both guards, and then the two men carjacked a driver who happened to pull up behind the bus as it stopped on a rural highway, Sills said.
“We are still desperately looking for these two individuals. They are armed with 9 mm pistols that were taken from these correctional officers. They are dangerous beyond description. If anyone sees them or comes into contact, they need to call 911 immediately,” the sheriff said.
The FBI said the fugitives were last seen getting into a “grass green,” four-door 2004 Honda Civic with the Georgia license plate number RBJ-6601, and driving west on state Highway 16 toward Eatonton, southeast of Atlanta.
Sills said the two inmates got a head start by taking and tossing the Honda driver’s cellphone and leaving the other 31 prisoners locked inside the bus. He predicted they would break into a house to change out of their prison clothes, and try to switch cars to throw pursuers off their trial.
The slain guards were identified as Christopher Monica and Curtis Billue, both officers at Baldwin State Prison. Monica had been with the Georgia Department of Corrections since October 2009 and Billue since July 2007.
Sills was emotional as he described the scene.
“I saw two brutally murdered corrections officers, that’s what I saw,” he said. “I have their blood on my shoes.”
How the inmates managed to reach and overpower the guards remains under investigation, Sills said.
“They were inside the caged area of the bus,” he said. “How they got through the locks and things up to that area I do not know.”
Protocol is to have two armed corrections officers on the bus, but the officers don’t wear bullet-proof vests during transfers, Corrections Commissioner Greg Dozier said.
“We lost two of our fellow officers, two of our kin. We see our officers as our family,” Dozier said.
Monica was 42 and leaves behind a wife, while Billue was 58 and is survived by his father and siblings. The officers’ families are “dealing with it the best they can at this point,” Dozier said.
The inmates on the bus were being moved from a state prison in Hancock County to a diagnostics center in Jackson, where their next placement was to be determined, Dozier said, adding that inmates do not know their transfer dates ahead of time.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said federal resources are being committed to help catch the fugitives.
“An attack on any American law enforcement officer is an attack on every American law enforcement officer and the principles we all believe in,” Rosenstein told a Senate budget panel in Washington Tuesday morning.
Both escaped inmates are serving long sentences for armed robbery and other crimes. The Department of Corrections said Rowe has been serving life without parole since 2002, and Dubose began a 20-year sentence in 2015.
A photo released by the sheriff’s office in Elbert County, the site of his most recent conviction, shows Dubose with prominent tattoos. He appears to have a crown tattooed above his right eyebrow, writing above his left eyebrow and large letters covering the entire front of his neck.
“My biggest worry is they’re going to kill somebody else,” Sills said.
“They need to surrender before we find ’em,” he added later.
This story has been CORRECTED to show sheriff now saying it happened around 6:45 a.m. and describing the guards’ weapons as 9 mm pistols, not .40-caliber Glock pistols; contradicting earlier sheriff’s office statements.