Convicts on a Georgia prison bus appeared to laugh and jump around as two corrections officers were shot to death earlier this week in an escape that prompted a nationwide manhunt.
The callousness of the crime has authorities preparing to seek the death penalty for accused killers Ricky Dubose and Donnie Russell “Whiskey” Rowe.
“We’ve got too many of these savages out here. We need to keep them caged up and send those to hell that we can,” Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said Friday, a day after Rowe and Dubose were caught south of Nashville, Tennessee.
The sheriff has seen surveillance video from the bus that shows Tuesday’s attack on guards Curtis Billue and Chris Monica.
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Sills suspects some of the prisoners knew something was afoot by the way they moved to the back of the bus. They may not have known the guards were about to be killed, but their behavior was unsettling.
“They’re no different than a tank full of piranhas,” Sills said. “They’re purposely jumping around and laughing and going on.”
The killings happened along on Ga. 16 between Sparta and Eatonton.
Billue and Monica were taking 33 inmates to the prison at Jackson when Dubose and Rowe, former cellmates, somehow got through a metal barrier on the bus.
“I can see them do it (on the video), but I don’t know how they did it,” Sills said. “You can see them mess with (the lock) a little before they go in. But it was not locked when I got on the bus, and I was the first person on the bus.”
Rowe and Dubose fought the officer who wasn’t driving and somehow got their hands on an officer’s pistol.
“The bus driver gets shot and the guy riding shotgun gets shot and his body collapses down the stairwell of the bus door,” Sills said.
A tracking device on the bus showed that it stopped on the highway south of Lake Oconee at 6:44 a.m.
The accused killers were initially trapped on the bus by the mortally wounded guard lying in front of the door.
After busting a window on the folding exit door and squeezing through, Rowe and Dubose began their three-day flight by commandeering a passerby’s Honda Civic. The car had stopped behind the bus, which was blocking the road.
Video footage shows other prisoners possibly trying to make a break for it, but apparently thinking better of it and returning to the bus.
“I think they were concerned that their walk might lead to a ride on that needle,” Sills said, referring to execution by lethal injection.
By Thursday, the fugitives believed they were dead men walking.
Having eluded the dragnet for two days, they took an elderly couple hostage in their home near Shelbyville, Tennessee.
Bedford County Sheriff Austin Swing said the husband and wife were “extremely traumatized” and feared for their lives.
Dubose and Rowe told the couple the men didn’t have anything to lose, that “they would probably be dead in 24 hours.”
Earlier Thursday in Moore County near Lynchburg, Tennessee, the escapees stole a sedan after ditching the Ford F-250 pickup taken from Madison late Tuesday.
They got as far as Bedford County before abandoning the vehicle on the side of the road.
“I’m assuming and think it broke down on ’em, but they may have decided just to ditch it,” Swing said.
The escapees walked a little ways up the road, barged into the couple’s house and put guns to both of their heads.
Rowe and Dubose tied them up, ate some beef stew, grabbed some clothes, boots and jewelry.
Sills said they hid in the house for about three hours as Bedford County deputies were down the street with the abandoned car.
Once the scene cleared, the accused killers left in the couple’s Jeep Cherokee and threatened the husband and wife that they would come back for them if the couple told on them.
About 15 minutes later, the man was able to break free and called authorities.
A new lookout on the Jeep was posted and deputies spotted the car on Interstate 24, about 50 miles southeast of Nashville.
The chase reached speeds of over 100 mph, Sgt. Dan Goodwin of the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office told reporters.
“A highly dangerous situation, two extremely dangerous people, well-armed and traveling high-speed through our community was a grave concern,” Goodwin said.
Shots were fired at the pursuing officers, but deputies did not return fire, Rutherford County Sheriff Michael Fitzhugh said.
Rowe and Dubose crashed the car and ran into the woods and came upon a house at the end of a long driveway in Christiana, Tennessee.
The homeowner saw them trying to steal his car and came out with an AR-15 rifle pointed at them.
He and a neighbor held them at gunpoint until officers arrived.
Seeing the men face down on the concrete driveway with their hands bound behind their back was a relief to law enforcement officers across the Southeast.
The GBI will reward the “bravery of Tennessee civilians” who helped apprehend the fugitives by distributing the $141,000 in reward money.
Rowe and Dubose will be held in Tennessee awaiting extradition to Middle Georgia to face murder charges.
Putnam District Attorney Stephen Bradley plans to review the evidence and move forward “quickly,” he said.
“I cannot imagine a case being more serious than this.”