Sheriff reviews policies after inmate escapes custody

by: Trish Williford Updated:

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WATAUGA COUNTY, N.C. - A local sheriff is promising big changes after James Smith escaped a deputy, stole an SUV and led officers on a three-state chase.
Smith was denied bond in a hospital room Tuesday afternoon.
 
Smith ran to a home after he escaped the custody of an Alexander County sheriff’s deputy.
 
He stole the homeowner's SUV and headed toward Virginia.
 
Melanie Hollar said she is thankful she stayed late at work Monday afternoon because when she arrived home she saw dozens of deputies surrounding a shed in the back of her home.
 
“He had stolen my vehicle probably within 30 minutes of me coming home,” Hollar said. “The road was blocked, and I saw the deputies with their dogs and rifles.”
 
Deputies told Hollar that the escaped inmate searched her property and stole her Toyota 4Runner. She had left the keys inside the vehicle.
 
“It made me nervous. I was concerned about my dogs,” she said.
 
Smith had just escaped from the deputy who was transporting him to Watauga County.
 
Authorities said Smith was in the passenger seat of the deputy's vehicle when he pulled out a pair of needle-nosed pliers and held it to the deputy's throat.
 
Investigators said Smith forced the deputy to drive him to a Food Lion, where he jumped out of the squad car -- still in handcuffs -- and ran 2 miles down the road to Hollar’s house.
 
Damascus police told Channel 9 that Smith was traveling at a high rate of speed after he entered Virginia Monday night.
 
They said when officers attempted to stop him Smith lost control of the SUV and crashed it into several trees. 
 
Authorities said Smith jumped out of the vehicle, stepped onto a copperhead snake and then ran into the woods. 
 
Dozens of officers chased him and a K-9 tracked him down.
 
In light of the escape, law officers are looking at policy and procedures to help keep this from happening again.
 
“Now we will go back to having two officers to accompany all out-of-county transports,” Alexander County Sheriff Chris Bowman said.
 
He said he is also investigating how Smith got the pliers. 
 
He believes he stole them during the transport.
 
Smith is receiving treatment at a Virginia hospital.
 
Authorities don't know when he'll be released.

Earlier this month, police were searching for Smith after a chase in Hickory.

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