Young escapee was hard to miss

The fence in the recreation yard of the Charleston County Juvenile Detention Center was scaled by an inmate during an escape Tuesday.

A 15-year-old homicide suspect who broke free from the juvenile jail in North Charleston on Tuesday might have hatched the perfect plan for escape, but it had one little flaw.

A boy running through a neighborhood in his long johns is hard to miss.

The 911 lines began ringing as Waylyn residents spotted the strange sight: the teenager in his underclothing, drenched by the rain, sneaking in and out of backyards, bloodhounds close behind.

The escape attempt was over within three hours. The exhausted boy didn't put up a fight when authorities found him hunkered down in an unlocked van in someone's yard.

Now, Ricky Keith Jones is in lockdown, an isolated cell at the Charleston County Juvenile Detention Center, with all of his privileges revoked.

The Charleston County Sheriff's Office, which manages the juvenile jail, is studying what went wrong and how to prevent a similar occurrence. Jones' flight was the first escape from the facility off Leeds Avenue since the 1990s, sheriff's Maj. John Clark said.

Clark said Jones managed to scale a 15-foot-tall fence with barbed wire at the top and come out of it without a cut on him.

The agile boy took advantage of timing and bolted as soon as the doors opened and some of the 42 juvenile inmates walked out into "the yard" for their daily exercise session. The alarm sounded. Detention officers gave chase, and the manhunt was on.

The green jail shirt with big white letters that read, "Charleston County Juvenile Detention Center" was a dead giveaway and the first thing to come off. Eventually, Jones was down to nothing but the long johns, Clark said.

At one point, nearly 60 deputies, U.S. marshals and North Charleston police officers were hunting for the teenager. He was in familiar territory, just one neighborhood over from his home on South Allen Drive in Dorchester Terrace and about a mile from the scenes of two merciless shootings he is accused of perpetrating.

The search party stopped vehicles coming into the neighborhood, set up a perimeter around the community and canvassed the area, street by street.

Clark said it was the residents in Waylyn who made the difference. They called and they ran outside, pointing officials in the right direction as they spotted the escapee's moves. About 6:30 p.m., they directed officers to one area, and a police dog sniffed his way to a van parked in a yard on Gary Drive.

"We saw him in there and we opened the door, and he came out," Clark said. "He looked spent."

Clark said he looked for cuts and blood but found none. The boy said nothing and was driven back to the jail and put into a cell by himself.

Jones carefully chose the timing of his escape, Clark said.

"He was out in the rec yard every day," the major said. "You've got time to plan. He's got all day to think about how to get around our security."

Once a day, detention officers march the inmates, in groups, out to the rec yard, where they can play basketball or volleyball or just run and exercise outdoors. A tall fence with sharp, spiked points at the top confines them to the paved yard, which is roughly the size of a basketball court.

Jones picked the instant that detention officers walked outside with the group and before they could take up their positions in the yard. Citing the need for some security secrets, Clark said he couldn't talk about the number of detention officers with prisoners in the yard or how and where they are stationed. He said the Sheriff's Office is investigating whether there was a break in security procedures.

But one thing is clear: Jones took advantage of a situation, and the findings of the investigation will help authorities determine how to fix the problem, Clark said.

"We are confident that the security procedures we have in place are adequate. But at the same time, it's time for us to look at it again, and that's what we're going to do," Clark said.

Jones was in jail awaiting trial in two North Charleston shooting cases, including the Jan. 8 slaying of 17-year-old Parris M. Green. Jones is charged with murder in that incident and with assault and battery with intent to kill in a Nov. 28 shooting.