LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Tenn. (WMC/NBC) – A Tennessee prison inmate is on the run and authorities believe he is responsible for the murder of a corrections employee.
Ellen Strong lives just down from the West Tennessee State Prison in Lauderdale County. Everyone is on high alert since word got out that Curtis Ray Watson escaped taking off on a tractor. “The officer came and knocked on my door a while ago and said, ‘We’d like to search your house.’ I said that would be a good idea cause I haven’t even done that,” Strong said. “Very, very scary… very scary and I do know that the prison is right down the road.”
Watson was assigned to work as a farmworker at the prison. He is suspected of killing prison administrator Debra Johnson who was found dead in her home around 11:30 on the prison grounds. It is not clear when Watson escaped.
Corrections Commissioner Tony Parker said, “Immediately following the facility was locked down. Official inmate count was conducted. At that time inmate Curtis Ray Watson 363744 was found.”
A manhunt started looking for Watson in the acres and acres of farm fields and woods surrounding the prison. The search was made difficult because of torrential rain. Cars driving on surrounding roads were checked.
Debra Johnson worked for the department of correction for 38 years.
Burt Staggs worked with Debra Johnson for a little over a year more than a decade ago. He said, “She was a really fine lady. What I knew of her there was never any conflict with her with staff or inmates. She treated everybody with respect.”
Curtis Watson was convicted of especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated child abuse.
He is 5′ 11″, 180 pounds. He could have changed his appearance but cannot hide the many, many tattoos on his body—tattoos of skulls and devils and other similar images. He is a man considered very dangerous.
“You Never know, the ones who are in prison, how bad they can be,” Strong said.
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