HAGERSTOWN -- For the past several years, Wayne R. Brechbill eked out an existence as an excavator, living quietly in a mobile home near an industrial park in the shadow of the state's largest prison complex.
"He couldn't have been in a safer place," said Gary Cook, owner of Cumberland Valley Fabricators in the industrial park. "Living here between the state police barracks and the state prison -- who would havethought?"
Brechbill was captured Tuesday by state police at a service station near his home, 22 years after he walked away from a work detail at a Jessup prison, where he had been serving a one-year sentence on a concealed-weapon charge. He had been sentenced in Washington County in 1969.
Brechbill was arrested after police received a confidential tip. He had gone to the station to look at his motorcycle, which had been wrecked in an accident three days earlier.
A number of Brechbill's neighbors, however, said that the man was a model citizen and that they did not understand why authorities would send him to jail after all these years.
"I feel kind of sorry for him," said Mr. Cook, who had occasionally hired Brechbill for excavating work. "I think everybody should be held responsible for their actions, but I think after 22 years he should be free."
Brechbill, 50, is being held at the prison classification center in Baltimore. Parole officials will review his sentence after he faces charges of escape, which carry up to a 10-year sentence, said Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, a state prison system spokesman.
"The bottom line is he is back in the system now to serve 10 months on his original sentence and any sentence on the escape charge," Sergeant Shipley said. He said he did not know the circumstances of Brechbill's original weapons charge.
No comment was available from Brechbill, who could not be interviewed without permission from prison authorities.
Brechbill's neighbors, however, expressed shock at his arrest. Neighbors described him as a "nice fellow" who minded his own business and who occasionally did work for them.
Although some neighbors said they had known him for years, they conceded they knew little if anything about his personal life.
Brechbill lived in a green and white mobile home on a 1.5-acre lot off Route 65, adjacent to the industrial park -- less than a mile from the Maryland Correctional Institution and two miles from the state police barracks.
A woman at Brechbill's home declined to talk to a reporter.
State police Sgt. Ken Frick said Brechbill had eluded authorities because he was living under a false name and had a false West Virginia driver's license.
He also left no trail of paperwork.
"He was living with a woman but never married her because he would have had to prove who he was," Sergeant Frick said. "He was never in trouble. He led a good life. He figured out what he had to do to elude capture."
Sergeant Frick said Brechbill had lived in the area for several years, although some residents of the area had known him for much longer.
Donald Jones, a supervisor at nearby Conservit Inc., a metals recycler, said he has known Brechbill about 10 years. "Dickie is a good ol' boy," Mr. Jones said. "I've never seen him get smart with anybody. He always had a smile on his face."
"Anybody that knows Dickie will tell you the same thing," said Mr. Jones, who occasionally had a few beers with Brechbill at a nearby tavern. "He's a good boy."
Brent Henson, an ironworker at Cumberland Valley Fabricators, described Brechbill as "one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet."
"Even if I tried, I couldn't think of anything bad to say about him," said Mr. Henson.
"He never caused anybody any trouble," said Greg Mann, who owns a catering firm on a lot next to Brechbill's. "You couldn't have asked for a better neighbor. There's a guy who had become a productive member of the community. It won't do any good to have him in prison."
Bruce Rockwell, plant manager at Newell Enterprises Inc., also located in the industrial park, said Brechbill had done excavating work for him.
"When he had a job and said it was going to be done, it was done," Mr. Rockwell said. "He never whined if you didn't pay right away, either. He was a very nice fellow. I never heard any harsh words come out of him."
Mr. Rockwell said he was disturbed that Brechbill would be forced to go to prison after all these years.
"He's proved he can do good," Mr. Rockwell said. "He doesn't need to serve a sentence. He's served his sentence, probably worrying all these years about being caught. It should all be water under the bridge."
Sergeant Shipley said he did not know how the parole commission would handle Brechbill's case.
"I think it really depends on the case -- the original crime," Sergeant Shipley said. "I think his productive life will certainly be looked at -- at some point."