Escapee Found In Richmond

Devin Champagne, 20, On The Run For A Week, Was Hiding In A Basement Wall

August 22, 2009|By Don Markus | Don Markus,don.markus@baltsun.com

A week after authorities say a 20-year-old thief slipped his handcuffs around a Howard County deputy's neck and managed to escape, he was tracked down in Virginia, hiding in a hollowed-out basement wall in a house on the outskirts of Richmond.

It was the latest twist for Devin Champagne, a Jessup man who had been on the run since his conviction Aug. 13 for first-degree theft, with his capture involving about 100 officers - from the U.S. Marshals Service, Maryland State Police and local police and deputies in Maryland and Virginia.

"I think we were dealing with a desperate young man. He didn't want to be placed in the county jail," Howard Sheriff James Fitzgerald said Friday. "I think his family was somewhat shocked that this had happened. I don't think they realized the propensity of the violence of their child."

Champagne had briefly left the courthouse Aug. 13 before his conviction was announced, only to be coaxed back by his mother and escorted to court by Deputy Don Chase. Later that night, police say, Champagne attacked Chase as the deputy drove him to the detention center, maneuvering his handcuffs from the back to the front of his body. He also tried unsuccessfully to unholster Chase's gun before escaping through the car window, authorities say.

Based on tips the marshals service in Richmond received Thursday afternoon from its counterpart in Greenbelt, authorities began staking out a home south of the city about 9:30 p.m. After supervisor Kevin Connolly saw a man fitting Champagne's description through a basement window about 11 p.m., about 15 members of a tactical entry unit were allowed inside by an occupant.

Besides the middle-age woman who let them in, police found a 90-year-old woman, three young children and the man they believed to be Champagne. After the man identified himself as Devin Champagne - a claim first supported by the younger woman - she told police that he was Bryan Champagne, the escapee's brother.

Authorities then continued to search the house. "It was like a 15-minute game of hide-and-seek," Connolly said.

They noticed something strange about a basement wall, and there found Devin Champagne, his body obscured by a mattress and a piece of plywood.

Connolly said he wasn't sure of the connection between the Champagne brothers and the women in the house.

Devin Champagne told police that the middle-age woman was his aunt but then said he couldn't remember her name.

Champagne faces charges of attempted first-degree murder and assaulting a police officer. He also faces a charge of escape. Champagne appeared in Chesterfield County Court on Friday and could be extradited back to Maryland within a week. If Champagne fights extradition, Howard County authorities will seek a warrant from Gov. Martin O'Malley to prosecute him.

Fitzgerald credited the work of law enforcement officers in several jurisdictions, some of whom have been working 17 hours a day to find Champagne.

"You've got to remember that the U.S. marshals, their job is to apprehend fugitives. We knew that when we shared our information with them, the U.S. marshals would have him in custody in a short time," Fitzgerald said during a news conference at the detention center, standing about 100 yards from where the attack on Chase took place.

Fitzgerald said that Chase, who was released from Johns Hopkins Hospital this week, is "on the way to recovery" and is looking to return to work.

At the time of the escape, Fitzgerald said that his office would review policies that allow one officer to transport prisoners within the county using a police car that is not equipped with a barrier between the back and front seats.

"We transport thousands of prisoners every year, it's very rare that you're going to have an altercation like this. ... At this point, I would say that all our policies were followed," Fitzgerald said.

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