Shore prison may be fenced in after inmate's escape

April 08, 1993|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

Although he had been an inmate at the prison only four days before he fled, Randy Eugene McBee might do for the town of Church Hill what county officials have been trying to accomplish for years -- get a fence built around the nearby prerelease facility.

State corrections administrators yesterday pledged to search their budget to find the estimated $300,000 it would cost to erect a chain barricade around the 160,000- square-foot central portion of the Eastern Pre-Release Unit, located in upper Queen Anne's County.

At a meeting in Annapolis with local officials, Division of Correction Commissioner Richard A. Lanham Sr. agreed to step up security measures and to improve communications between the unit's staff and police to alert area residents when an inmate escapes.

Before McBee, 38, walked away from the fenceless prison on March 23, escapees seldom had posed a serious threat to the nearby town of fewer than 500 residents. In the case of McBee and previous escapees, known as "walk-offs," the rural community was not alerted.

By the time he was captured 11 days later in West Virginia, McBee had been linked to a trail of crime involving rape, armed robbery and hostage-taking beginning in Church Hill.

"I think we all agree, this one's weird," said Del. C. Ronald Franks, R-Queen Anne's County, referring to the fact that McBee apparently remained in the Church Hill area for three days before he allegedly raped a woman in her home and used her car to drive to West Virginia.

Yesterday McBee, 38, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., pleaded not guilty to 19 criminal charges in West Virginia. He was returned to the Eastern Regional Jail in Martinsburg after entering his plea, tTC said Circuit Clerk Betty Moss. Trial was set Aug. 5.

Maryland authorities are trying to extradite McBee to this state, where he faces 14 criminal counts, including rape, robbery with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment.

Most of the walk-offs in the 29-year history of the prerelease unit quickly left the Church Hill area without harming anyone. Nevertheless, county leaders have tried for years to persuade corrections officials to improve security at the unit.

Eastern Pre-Release houses 174 inmates, most sent there to serve the final phase of incarceration before they are released from prison. In the early days, nonviolent inmates made up most of the unit's population. But corrections officials said yesterday that in order to house Maryland's 20,000 prisoners, the state has had to shift inmates with more serious criminal records to prerelease units.

Police said McBee twice broke into a farmhouse near the unit and stole two handguns, ammunition and clothing. Police said that on March 26 he walked into a Church Hill residence, tied up a girl and an elderly woman and raped a third woman.

Two people later reported calling state police about a suspicious man. Informed that the man wore a beard, police apparently disregarded the calls because they thought McBee was clean-shaven.

After a bearded McBee was arrested, police acknowledged that they had been using an outdated photo of a clean-shaven man.

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