Jail escapee still at large

By Staff
VISITATION ROOM Inmate Derek Houston escaped the Lauderdale County Detention Facility Monday by removing a ceiling panel in the visitation room and climbing through an air duct on the other side. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Marianne Todd/The Meridian Star
April 25, 2001
A Lauderdale County Detention Facility official said temporary repairs have been made to the visitation room of the jail after an inmate escaped Monday night.
Investigators said they have no leads as to the whereabouts of inmate 21-year-old Derek Houston.
Houston climbed on a partition in the visitation room, removed the ceiling, scaled the wall above the ceiling and came down on the other side through an air-conditioning duct.
Sheriff Billy Sollie said residents should consider Houston dangerous. He was most recently jailed on two burglary charges, but Jail Administrator Maj. Doris Callahan said Houston's previous charges range from armed robbery to aggravated assault and 10 misdemeanors, including simple assault. Houston is also wanted in Texas on various charges, she said.
Houston's escape was similar to that of inmate Zachary Kothenbeutal, who escaped in March 1999 while awaiting trial on a murder charge. Kothenbeutal also escaped by going through a ceiling and lowering himself with two sheets through an exterior air vent. That problem was solved by placing wood beams between the brick wall and the ceiling, leaving no space for a body to crawl through, and by placing razor wire around the exterior of the jail.
Callahan said architect Bob Luke and County Administrator Rex Hiatt will meet today to discuss problems in the design of the visitation room.
Visitation had been halted until the ceiling could be repaired. Since the temporary repairs have been made, visitation has resumed, Callahan said.
So far, no charges have been brought against a woman questioned in connection with Houston's escape. The woman was suspected of providing street clothes for Houston after he scaled the wall, Sollie said.
Investigators are also looking into the work performance of correctional officers on duty at the time.
The escape occurred in front of three visitors and three other inmates, none of whom reported the escape, Callahan said.
Residents with information can call CrimeStoppers at 490-2746. Residents who spot Houston should call 911 immediately.
Marianne Todd is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3236, or e-mail her at mtodd@themeridianstar.com.

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