COLUMBUS — An escaped prison inmate used the phone at a small general store and bought an iced tea and a lighter at a counter where his mug shot was displayed before a customer tackled him, ending a daylong search in a matter of minutes, store workers said today.
Store employees told the owner that James David Myers tried to use change from his pocket to cover up his picture before he was tackled and tied up with rope off the shelf Thursday night, less than 24 hours after he was found to be missing from a prison about 8 miles away in Mansfield.
The prison and the State Highway Patrol have refused to discuss how Myers, who worked in the prison’s maintenance area, escaped before a headcount Wednesday, his 47th birthday.
Employees at the Olivesburg General Store in rural north-central Ohio reported that Myers asked to use the phone Thursday evening, saying he needed to call for help because his vehicle broke down nearby, said store owner Connie Crossen, who arrived later. Myers, in a white T-shirt and dark pants, had been carrying a coat labeled with the prison’s abbreviation, Crossen said.
Employee Greg Gallaway said he was scooping ice cream when, in disbelief, he and a customer wearing an American flag shirt for the Fourth of July recognized Myers at about the same time.
“I’m kind of looking around the room, like, ‘Is anyone else seeing what I’m seeing right now?’” said Gallaway, 20.
The customer in the flag shirt, Mark Cooper, told Cleveland’s WEWS-TV he had figured Myers was long gone, but he became suspicious when he overheard a man ask to use the store phone. Cooper — 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds — said he called authorities and then decided to take action, hoping to keep others safe, but couldn’t tell whether Myers had a weapon beneath his clothes.
“I just walked back over there and threw him to the ground, didn’t give him a chance to get a gun,” Cooper told the station. Surveillance video from the store shows Cooper grabbing Myers from behind and pinning him to the floor.
“It was awesome, honestly,” said Gallaway. He said Myers didn’t resist once pinned, and others helped tie him up.
Myers was taken back to the prison, where he’d been held for the rape, kidnapping and other crimes.
Though authorities had warned the public not to engage Myers if he was spotted, Crossen said she was proud of how employees handled the situation. Gallaway said it didn’t occur to him until afterward that the inmate might have been armed.
“While we wouldn’t encourage people to take action regarding a dangerous criminal who had just escaped from prison, you know, we understand that they did what they had to do,” said Lt. Anne Ralston, a patrol spokeswoman. “We’re thankful to get him into custody without incident and get him back to the prison without anybody getting hurt.”
Prison officials wouldn’t say whether Myers previously tried to escape.
Myers, formerly of Mogadore, was imprisoned in 2010 on kidnapping, rape, aggravated burglary and other charges out of northeast Ohio’s Summit County. Prosecutors alleged he raped a woman at gunpoint and forced her to consume cocaine, and an appeals court upheld his conviction, according to court records.