‘There’s a major time lapse here’ Prison officials unsure when, how Lima inmates escaped

Published: May. 24, 2023 at 6:22 PM EDT
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LIMA, Ohio (WTVG) - More than 26 hours went by between the time two inmates at a Lima prison were last spotted on prison security cameras and the time workers determined they had escaped, according to authorities.

As the manhunt continued Wednesday for a man convicted of double murder who escaped the Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution, authorities are investigating how and when Bradley Gillespie, 50, and James Lee, 47, escaped. An investigation is also underway to determine how the prison failed to notice their absence sooner despite an internal policy of conducting seven daily inmate headcounts.

Gillespie was convicted in 2016 for the Paulding County murders of Hanna Fischer, 21, and Frank Tracy, 47. Lee was convicted of safecracking, breaking and entering, burglary and judicial sanction.

Gillespie was still on the run as of Wednesday night. Police in Henderson, Kentucky believe he is somewhere near the Kentucky/Indiana border after police captured his accomplice, Lee, early Wednesday morning. Police said they flagged down a stolen vehicle from Auglaize County that they believed had two escapees inside. The driver of that vehicle led police on a chase that ended in a crash. Authorities were able to capture Lee but did not apprehend Gillespie.

Police in Henderson told our sister station Wednesday afternoon they believe Gillespie is still in that area and investigators found a shoe they believe belongs to him. Police are using choppers, boats and K9s to search for him.

A Lieutenant with Ohio State Highway Patrol said Tuesday night the main focus for authorities was the efforts to capture the convicts but will continue to investigate how they escaped, when they escaped, how the prison employees missed Gillespie and Lee in the inmate headcounts, and whether the inmates had any help breaking out of the prison.

“Obviously there’s a major time lapse here that we’re going to have to deal with,” said the Allen County Sheriff Matthew Treglia on Tuesday night during a media briefing.

A prison official said Tuesday night the two inmates were last seen on prison security cameras around 8:40 a.m. Monday morning. Prison workers noticed James Lee was not accounted for during the routine inmate count around 11:00 a.m. Tuesday morning. Officials held an emergency headcount at 11:45 a.m. that day and notified authorities of his absence around 12:30 p.m. It wasn’t until 12:45 p.m. Tuesday that prison workers noticed Gillespie had also escaped.

This week’s incident isn’t the first time prisoners have escaped from the facility. Three people, including a convicted school shooter who killed three people and injured two others at Chardon High School near Cleveland, escaped the prison in Lima back in 2014. Authorities said they built a makeshift ladder, scaled a fence and jumped off a roof to get out.

Numerous agencies continue to search for the convicted killer, including U.S. Marshals, the FBI, Ohio State Highway Patrol, and several police departments. U.S. Marshals in conjunction with OSHP are offering a $21,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest in the case.

The following video shows the news conference authorities gave in Henderson, KY regarding the search efforts on Tuesday night.

Full press briefing: Evening update on manhunt in Henderson