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Two Employees Killed In Attempted NC Prison Break

Prison Bars
Michael Coghlan
Flickr Creative Commons
Officials say two prison employees were killed and several others injured at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City on October 12, 2017.

Updated 9:07 a.m., Oct. 13, 2017

Officials say two prison employees were killed and several others injured at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City.

The disturbance involved fires set in the prison's sewing plant on Thursday afternoon, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

Officials on Friday identified the two employees as Correctional Officer Justin Smith, 35, and Correction Enterprises Manager Veronica Darden, 50.

Correctional Officer Justin Smith, left, and Correction Enterprises Manager Veronica Darden, right, were killed during an attempted prison break at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution on October 12, 2017.

Smith has worked as a correctional officer since 2012 and provided security in the Correction Enterprises Specialty Sewing Plant. Darden supervised inmates working in the Specialty Sewing Plant. She had been a Correction Enterprises employee since 2007 and previously worked as a correctional officer. Officials did not immediately say how the employees were killed.

"Our hearts are broken by this tragedy that took members of our correction family," said Department of Public Safety Chief Deputy Secretary David Guice in a statement. "Words cannot express our deep sorrow. We will work closely with investigators to learn the circumstances of today’s incident and bring to justice those responsible."

Three other prison employees remain hospitalized in critical condition at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. Seven prison employees were treated and released from Sentara Albemarle Medical Center in Elizabeth City. Four inmates were also treated for injuries.

About 30 inmates work for Correction Enterprises producing embroidered logo items, safety vests and other sewn items.

After the fire was set, several inmates attempted to escape but were not successful. No inmates managed to clamber beyond the prison walls, state prison spokesman Keith Acree said.

Sentara Albemarle Medical Center in Elizabeth City received nine people requiring treatment, hospital spokesman Peter Sengenberger said. He added two of those patients were transferred and five other patients were being taken to a sister hospital about 50 miles (80 kilometers) to the north in Norfolk, Virginia.

The prison can house nearly 900 adult, male felons in both high-security and minimum-custody buildings but the inmate population on Thursday was 725, according to state officials. Minimum-security prisoners work outside the walls on road gangs for the county recycling department and perform other community labor.

The public school district locked doors at three nearby schools after getting word about 3:30 p.m. of the escape attempt. The notice came as students at one of the facilities, Pasquotank High School, were just to be released for the day and after dismissal times for the elementary and middle schools, said Tammy Sawyer, a spokeswoman for Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools. Buses were ordered back to their schools with any students still in transit.

"We didn't want kids home alone or in transport with the potential situation that was unfolding," Sawyer said. Local emergency management officials said about 5 p.m. it was again safe for students to return home.

The prison has reported other incidents this year. In April, an argument between two inmates at the prison led to one prisoner stabbing the other several times in the upper torso. Two months earlier, a guard was charged with trying to smuggle illegal drugs, phones and cigarettes behind prison walls.

Officials say the prison is under control and locked down, with all inmates accounted for in multiple counts. 

The Pasquotank County Sheriff's Department, along with the State Bureau of Investigation, are investigating the incident.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Elizabeth “Liz” Baier is an editor for WUNC. She has two decades of experience than span print, audio, and digital reporting and editing.
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