by: Kathryn Burcham Updated:
UNION COUNTY, N.C. - State prison officials are defending a work detail program after an inmate escaped for hours while washing cars at a local highway patrol office.
Authorities confirmed to Channel 9 that Tyrone Rivers walked away from the Union County N.C. State Highway Patrol office in Monroe Thursday morning and was missing for at least a half-hour before his supervisors realized he escaped.
"We're not aware of any crimes he's committed or anything while he was gone," said N.C. Department of Adult Corrections spokesman Keith Acree.
Investigators said Rivers, who is currently serving a seven-year sentence for armed robbery, met with his girlfriend for nearly three hours before he returned to the patrol headquarters and turned himself in.
"There's a concern, just for your safety," Monroe resident Melissa DeBlasi told Channel 9.
DeBlasi questioned the supervision procedures in the wake of the incident.
In April, two other inmates on a construction work detail at the same NCSHP office allegedly stole a bag of cocaine and thousands of dollars in cash from the troopers' evidence locker.
State prison officials said they were reviewing their policies and procedures but said the latest incident was not serious and that the N.C. Highway Patrol employees who were supposed to be monitoring the inmates' activity in the patrol's maintenance garage followed proper protocol.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time, what we find is the procedures we have are good. It's just that the people who were supposed to follow them weren't doing what they were supposed to be," Acree said.
Officials said Rivers has been removed from the work gang and segregated from the rest of the prison population while their investigation continues.