It took but a single morning before one of the two inmates who fled last week from the Gulf County Detention Facility was captured in Franklin County.
It took most all of three days before they caught the other one, also in a neighboring county, at the southern edge of Calhoun County.
The search for Chad Edward Johnson, 43, who together with Rex Arron Veasey, Jr., 29, had busted out of the jail in Gulf County around midnight Tuesday, Sept. 7, ended Thursday, Sept. 9 at about 8:30 p.m. in a heavily wooded area about four miles south of Blountstown.
"We got our bad guy," said Gulf Sheriff Mike Harrison, not long after a helicopter from the Leon County Sheriff’s Office, equipped with a Forward Looking Infrared thermal camera system, spotted Johnson hiding in a thickly-wooded area about 100 yards from where law enforcement had found a 15-passenger van from Gant's BBQ. Johnson stole the van about five hours after his breakout.
Calhoun County Sheriff Glenn Kimbrel said the U.S. Marshall’s Office Fugitive Task Force coordinated with the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office and the Bay County Sheriff’s Office Aviation Unit to search an area in northern Gulf County where they suspected Johnson might have been.
“They did diligent work in finding out and evaluating how much it might travel with that amount of gas it had in it,” said Kimbrel.
In addition to Gulf County deputies, the search was conducted by K-9 units from the Gulf and Calhoun correctional institutions, and the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.
After law enforcement found the abandoned van, nearby an empty house, they discovered a note left inside the van that said, “I live in the trailer, please don’t mess with my van.” Kimbrel said fresh footprints were found nearby an abandoned trailer.
A second note left by Johnson in the abandoned home thanked the owner for the “good hiding spot” and was signed “Man on the run…”
As several deputies converged on the spot radioed them by the helicopter, Johnson offered no resistance. "He knew he was outmanned," said Harrison.
By Friday, Johnson has been taken from the Calhoun County Jail to Gulf County, where he was charged with escape, principal to attempted murder and introduction of contraband into a detention facility. Now being held without bond, he is expected to appear before Circuit Judge Shonna Gay on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 5.
The search for Veasey had taken far less time, about half a day after he and Johnson, sometime after midnight, had attacked a guard at the Gulf County Detention Facility, punching him and trying to stab him with a homemade knife, before they tore an air conditioning unit from a window and escaped through the hole, according to a probable cause affidavit filed by investigators.
The investigation determined Johnson and Veasey struck the officer in the face as many as a dozen times after he opened the cell door where he and Veasey were housed together.
“Using both hands, the officer was able to grab Johnson’s hand with the homemade knife to keep him from stabbing him,” said Harrison. “Johnson continued to strike the officer in the head with his other hand. The officer told the investigator that he almost lost consciousness.”
Veasey was captured by Franklin County sheriff’s deputies around 11:05 a.m. Tuesday in the vicinity of the Box-R Ranch after he was observed in the woods by a civilian employee of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
He was booked into the Franklin County Jail and faces new charges of escape from a correctional facility and one count of attempted murder. He had been in custody in Gulf County on charges of sexual battery with a weapon on a victim between age 12 and 17, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and escape.
It had not been the first time Veasey had tried to escape from the facility, the first time in Nov. 2020. Details of that escape remained sealed on the court records website of Gulf County Clerk of Courts Becky Norris.
The Star submitted a request to view the documents.
Johnson also had been party to an escape attempt in March 2020 at the Liberty County Jail, when he is alleged to have followed a correctional officer out of the dorm, grabbed him by the shoulder, and pushed him to the wall.
“At this point several other inmates jumped on Chad while other inmates protected Smith as he returned to the control center,” reads the probable cause affidavit. “An inmate had told (the correctional officer later) that Chad had grabbed him because he was trying to get his keys in order to escape.”
In addition to attempted escape, Johnson was charged in March 2020 with battery on a law enforcement officer, and later transferred to Gulf County. In Sept. 2018, he had been arrested in Liberty County on 15 counts of possession of child pornography.
After his attorney was able to secure his
release on a $100,000 bond, Johnson was charged in Dec. 2019 on grand theft of
a motor vehicle and his bond was revoked.