Escapes Trigger Jail Fail

Billy Crelia (L) and Corey Buckner walked out of jail on March 10

Hillsboro – Hill County authorities are in a tailspin over a failing inspection report by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards following a daring pre-dawn escape by two inmates of the County Jail last March 10.

Quite simply, the problem is inadequate staffing, and Hill County is non-compliant in that regard, and other criteria.

One of the escapees is a trusty awaiting transfer to Huntsville on a “blue warrant” issued by pardons and paroles officials for parole violation.

Knowledgeable observers are clamoring that trusty status is not a good recommendation as a security classification for a person who is slated to catch the chain back to the cotton patches. Confronted by newsmen on the day of the escape, the Sheriff described people facing prison stretches as “desperate” in their situation.

An inmate duo fled this kitchen dock and scaled a perimeter fence

Correct me if I’m wrong,” wrote an experienced jail administrator who requested anonymity, “but the jail is the property of the County Judge and the Commissioners’ Court. The Sheriff just operates it.”

Hill County is one of the few in the area that operates its lockup with Sheriff’s Office staff. Many are operated by corrections contractors under agreements between the Commissioners’ Court and the corporations that contract with them.

Concerned citizens in the community blame a lack of cohesion between the politics of conservative members of the Court and Sheriff Rodney B. Watson.

They’re supposed to have a minimum of one corrections officer for each 48 inmates.”

Hill County’s corrections operations don’t comply in each of 10 crucial areas cited by jail inspectors:

Click image for full size

It all comes down to budget; the name of the game is money, and the art of the possible is beholden to the bottom line, be it black or red.

Take the case of an unnamed woman who simply walked out of the 66th District Courtroom on September 10 while Judge Lee Harris was busy in chambers and was in the process of revoking her bond. In the confusion of a busy docket call, the woman simply slipped her hand through a loose handcuff shackle and hid the hardware inside the sleeve of her hooded sweatshirt, walked out of court, and got back in the car with her ride. Apparently, according to Sheriff’s Office spokesmen, the lady’s benefactor on wheels thought her rider had been released.

Bondsmen facing forfeiture of her bail worked hard to return her to custody.

Any escape from a jail triggers an automatic inspection by the Jail Standards Commission.

Billy Crelia, 38, a convicted felon who had been busted for possession of a controlled substance and jailed on a warrant that would return him to the penitentiary; his running partner, Corey Buckner, also 38, faced charges of armed robbery and evading arrest. The pair made a head count at 5 a.m. that Saturday morning in March; they then escaped the kitchen through a back door, fled through a tear in the wire fencing, and scaled another perimeter fence.

Hill County’s lockup sits behind a Chinese wall of brush on Hwy 22

The Hill County Jail is located in a building once used as a National Guard Armory, set far back from the road in scrubby growth that conceals the building from those passing by.

Tracking dogs trailed them through the woods as far as Highway 22, where the trail went cold. That led authorities to believe someone driving a vehicle picked them up at that location.

About 2:30 that afternoon, U.S. Marshals apprehended the pair at a Waco residence along with an unnamed female, according to published reports.


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