GASTON COUNTY, N.C. - A Gaston County inmate was killed in a crash Monday afternoon after officials said he stole a work truck while on work detail.
The Department of Public Safety said the inmate, identified as David Woods serving a sentence at Gaston Correctional Center. Woods was reported missing just before 1 p.m.
The North Carolina Department of Corrections said Woods was a minimum custody inmate. He was serving a life sentence for second-degree murder.
Woods pleaded guilty in 1992 for killing an elderly woman with a hammer.
He also had dozens of infractions while in prison.
Officials said Woods was driving a Ford pickup truck that belongs to the city of Lowell when it crashed at Exit 14 off I-85.
Witnesses told Channel 9 they saw the pickup truck flip several times and plunge into the ravine.
"I seen that truck just going in the air and just flipping over, over and over and going into this ravine right there. And then after that I'd seen a bunch of smoke and dirt and everything. It was pretty devastating," witness Ruth Varney said.
Gastonia police are investigating the accident. The Division of Prisons will investigate the circumstances surrounding the inmate's escape.
Woods was placed on work release in September with Lowell Public Works making $1 a day for checking meters and digging up pipes in neighborhoods.
"They come out here every day,” resident Albert Rhoden said. “(They) check our water meters and everything."
Channel 9 looked into prison policies, and they state that inmates sentenced for serious assaultive crimes against persons or sexual crimes against persons are not selected for highway work or inmate labor contract assignment until they have served 60 days in minimum custody.
Lowell town leaders want answers from the state saying they were never notified about Woods' violent criminal past.
"If we don't correct this situation, it can well happen in any other city or town again," Mayor Pro Tem Thomas Gillespie said.
Read more top trending stories on wsoctv.com:
- Mourners arrive as public pays respects to Rev. Billy Graham
- CMPD: Woman not in crosswalk when hit, killed by car on South Tryon
- Police find no evidence of shots fired after Concord Mills lockdown
- WATCH: Keith Monday's Monday forecast outlook
- President Trump to attend funeral for Rev. Billy Graham
© 2018 Cox Media Group.