Three fugitives caught in Nebraska

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By The Staff

Landmark News Service

Three fugitives from an Indiana prison are back behind bars after being apprehended in Nebraska almost a week after their escape.

Jerry Sargent, a 59-year-old from Williamstown, fled the Branchville Correctional Facility near Tell City, Ind., on Friday, March 20, along with Bobby Cockerell III, 31, and Christopher Marshall, 49.

Grant County authorities were on alert and local schools kept security tight after speculation Sargent might try to see family members living in the area.

However, with the help of alert bystanders, the escapees were captured several states away in Alliance, Neb., following a 64-mile police pursuit with speeds up to 105 miles per hour on Thursday, March 26.

Sargent was serving two 50-year sentences for robbery and criminal confinement when he escaped. His earliest possible release date was Jan. 7, 2023.

The fugitives escaped the Indiana prison after allegedly knocking out a prison employee and cutting through a security gate.

Three days later, the trio assaulted and tied up three brothers, Richard, Keith and Barry Marshall (no relation to escapee Christopher Marshall), at Richard and Keith’s home on State Hwy. 36 East near Sanders. The escapees stole a vehicle owned by the Marshalls, along with an arsenal of guns and ammunition and about $7,000 in cash from the Marshalls’ home.

Law enforcement agencies across Kentucky, as well as several surrounding states, had been on the lookout for the men since they left the home after 11 a.m. Monday, March 23.

Later in the week, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms issued federal warrants for their arrest.

Carroll County Sheriff Ben Smith said ATF was able to track the fugitives after one of the men bought a pre-paid T-Mobile cell phone after leaving the Marshall home. The men took turns phoning relatives, who, in turn, notified authorities and provided the number of the T-Mobile phone the men were using.

Smith said ATF tracked them in the pickup truck through Illinois, Missouri and into Kansas, where at some point they bought a new vehicle – a Chrysler minivan. Smith said they kept the truck for 200 miles before ditching it, without plates, in a strip mall in Kansas. He said police are still looking for the truck.

At some point, the men turned off the cell phone and removed the battery, preventing authorities to continue to track them with it.

The morning of their arrest, the suspects stopped at a filling station in Thedford, Neb., to have the minivan vehicle repaired.

The mechanic contacted the Thomas County (Neb.) Sheriff’s Department later that evening, stating he recognized the three fugitives from an Internet photo.

The mechanic told police that the trio were in a dark-green mini-van.

The Hooker County (Neb.) Sheriff’s Department also was contacted by a waitress at a restaurant in Mullen, Neb., who recognized the three men from news reports.

The escapees had been at the restaurant earlier in the day.

The Hooker County sheriff located the suspects’ vehicle at a local motel and later observed two of the suspects return to the restaurant.

Moments later, the suspects left the restaurant and returned to the motel. They and the third fugitive, got into the vehicle and proceeded westbound on Nebraska Hwy. 2.

A deputy sheriff followed the vehicle and was later joined by Nebraska State Patrol troopers.

Authorities made several attempts to stop the vehicle as it traveled between the cities of Whitman and Hyannis. The suspects were able to evade tire deflators and roadblocks, and continued driving westbound on the highway.  

Just east of Alliance, Box Butte County deputies and a Hemingford Police officer successfully deployed a tire deflator. The vehicle continued westbound into Alliance, but at a drastically reduced speed.

After entering the city limits, the minivan slowed to nearly a stop and the three men attempted to flee on foot. Two of the suspects, Marshall and Cockerell, were arrested by state troopers after a short foot pursuit.

Sargent, who was armed with a semi-automatic handgun, fled down an alley and accosted a couple in a Ford Ranger pickup in an attempt to steal the vehicle.

Within seconds, an officer from the Alliance Police Department took Sargent into custody.

“I think there was probably a little confrontation, because I imagine that Sargent was told what his life expectancy was if he didn’t do what he was supposed to do,” said Capt. Jim Parish of the Nebraska State Patrol. “But, I don’t think there was anything physical. They arrested them all pretty much without incident.”

Numerous rifles and handguns, nearly $6,000 in cash and several other items believed to have been taken from the Carroll County home invasion were recovered from the suspects’ vehicle.

Parish said the escapees had no known connection to Nebraska.

“I think they were just on the run, period,” he said. “These towns are remarkably small. Everybody pretty much knows everybody and news spreads pretty fast. I actually think there must have been some pictures that showed up on CNN or something, and people saw it and called the local sheriff.”

The three men were housed in the Box Butte (Neb.) County Jail in Alliance and later were transferred to a jail in Lexington, Neb., which accommodates federal prisoners, according to John Weare, editor of the Alliance Times-Herald.

“We were really lucky,” Parish said. “We had a lot of things go right for us. I’m glad everybody is in custody and nobody got hurt.”

Dinah Marshall, speaking for herself, her husband, Barry, and brothers-in-law Richard and Keith, said the family was “relieved” to know the men had left the area and grateful that the men were captured without shots being fired.

“We’re glad no one was hurt from the guns and that someone didn’t have to go through this,” she said. “We’ve very thankful. This could have gone many different ways.”

Dinah Marshall said Richard, who was beaten the most severely last week, is home recovering, but has a long road ahead. “This will take awhile to get him back to normal,” she said, adding that Richard is in a lot of pain and having trouble with medications. “We’re paying the prices for what they’ve done to us.”

She said that the outcome of legal proceedings and the return of the stolen property and cash are all “secondary. We know as long as they are behind bars, everything will be OK.”

News-Democrat editor Phyllis McLaughlin and John Weare, editor of the Alliance Times-Herald in Alliance, Neb., contributed to this report.