A bus carrying prisoners was making its way through central Georgia when two inmates stormed the driver’s compartment. They overpowered and disarmed two corrections officers, fatally shot them, and vanished.
Prisoners Donnie Russell Rowe and Ricky Dubose were on a state corrections bus with 31 other inmates Tuesday morning when the pair got out of a locked rear section of the bus, officials said.
They disarmed Officers Christopher Monica and Curtis Billue while the bus was on State Route 16 between Eatonton and Sparta.
At least one of the prisoners shot and killed the officers, according to Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, and then the two disappeared.
As of early Wednesday, they’d been on the run for almost 24 hours.
Who pulled the trigger?
Investigators will analyze footage from video cameras on the bus to determine how they got free and who pulled the trigger, the sheriff said. But as long as the suspects are still on the loose, he called the matter of who opened fire “immaterial” for now.
“They are dangerous beyond description,” Sills told reporters Tuesday. “They need to surrender before we find them.”
Sills said later the duo had ransacked a nearby house, took some food and may have stolen some clothes.
The sheriff said there was no reason to believe the two have split up and gone their separate ways.
‘I have their blood on my shoes’
In addition to ransacking a house, the two prisoners carjacked a green 2004 four-door Honda Civic with Georgia license plate RBJ6601. After forcing the driver out, they drove west toward Eatonton, Sills said. Dubose had a prior arrest in the area but no family connections, the sheriff said.
The corrections officers were transporting the inmates from Hancock State Prison in adjacent Hancock County to the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, some 45 miles west of Eatonton, Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Greg Dozier said.
The other prisoners were still on the bus, with the doors closed, when authorities arrived at the scene, he said.
The sheriff was emotional as he recounted what he saw when he got there.
“I saw two brutally murdered corrections officers, that’s what I saw,” Sills said. “I have their blood on my shoes.”
Gov. Nathan Deal said the state will use all available resources to track down the fugitives.
“Today, two families lost everything in a heinous and senseless act of violence perpetrated at the hands of cowards,” Deal said. “Our heartbreak is matched only in our resolve to bring their murderers to justice.”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is offering $70,000 for information leading to their arrest.
The sheriff of Oconee County, whose jurisdiction is north of where the killings occurred, posted a message for the escaped convicts on Facebook.
“Donnie and Ricky, I hope you are reading this. What is done is done. However, I am asking you to surrender yourselves to the nearest law enforcement officer as soon as possible. You made your escape, but you won’t be out long. … There is no one you can trust … and nowhere you can go that we won’t find you,” the sheriff wrote.
Bus was going from one prison to another
It is standard protocol to have two officers — armed but not wearing ballistic vests — transport prisoners on a bus, authorities said.
Monica, a sergeant, worked for the department for almost eight years and leaves a wife. Billue, a 10-year employee, is survived by his father, brother and sister, Dozier said.
Rowe was serving a sentence of up to life in prison for armed robbery and aggravated assault in a 2001 case, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections website.
Dubose was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for armed robbery, aggravated assault and theft in 2014, the website shows. He also was convicted of theft and identity fraud in cases from August 2010.
The other prisoners on the bus were taken to the sheriff’s office and put on another corrections department bus.
Eatonton, Putnam County’s seat of government, is about 65 miles southeast of Atlanta.