MMA Fighter Helps Capture Craig County Escapee

Thursday, September 3rd 2015, 7:26 pm
By: Tess Maune

An escaped Craig County inmate is back in jail after being taken down by a professional fighter.

Sheriff Jimmie Sooter said inmate Blake Harmon was a trustee allowed to work around the jail. The sheriff said Harmon wrote a letter asking for trustee status, which was granted because of good conduct.

“'If you'll make me a trustee, I promise you I won't run,' so forth and so on,” the sheriff said about Harmon’s letter.

But on Wednesday, the sheriff said Harmon broke that promise by jumping over a secured fence while taking out the trash. Sooter said it’s the first time an inmate has escaped since he’s been sheriff, which is 15 years.

“It was not an easy thing to do, but he's young and wiry and he was able to do that,” Sooter said.

The sheriff said Harmon stepped up on a parked motorcycle and a box to jump the fence. A jailer and other trustees were also outside when the escape happened.

As word spread that an escaped inmate was on the run, deputies, Vinita Police and OHP were able to immediately set up a perimeter around the town.

“My wife called me and said there was an escaped inmate from the Craig County Jail,” Vinita resident Todd Hess said.

The phone call was all it took for Hess to join the manhunt, and just as he started the search, he spotted him.

“I was like, 'That's him.' So I threw my truck in park, right here, and the foot race was on,” Hess said.

He said Harmon was just wearing jeans and socks and tried to use an alley to get away from him.

“He was a little bit ahead of me, so I just jumped in, and I just jumped in and chased him down the alley. And back over there is where he decided he wanted to crawl up underneath a truck, and I didn't allow it,” Hess said.

Hess calls himself 'your average Joe.' He's a Vinita city employee, a volunteer firefighter and a little league coach; but he's also a former wrestler and a well-trained fighter getting ready to make his professional MMA debut next Friday at the Hard Rock Casio.

Hess’ experience in the ring easily gave him the upper hand.

“I drug him out from underneath the pickup and grabbed his hands, and I used a few wrestling, and a little MMA technique, to get his hands behind his back. And [he] was asking if I'd let him up and said he couldn't breathe, and I said, 'Well, you probably shouldn't have ran from the jail house, that probably wasn't very intelligent,'” Hess said.

Hess had Harmon pinned to the ground, with his arms behind his back when law enforcement got there about a minute later. The whole ordeal only lasted about 30 minutes and it ended three blocks away from the jail.

“There was law enforcement everywhere. They would have caught him eventually, I was just at the right time and the right place,” Hess said. “I was just doing what I hope most citizens would do in a case like that if they were capable, and luckily, I was capable.”

Harmon, the 21-year-old inmate, was taken back to jail.

“When we finally got him back to jail I asked him, ‘What was your plan?’ He said, 'I didn't have a plan, I just couldn't take this anymore, I had to get out,’” the sheriff said. “I asked him how was that 30 minutes of freedom, how was that? He said it was not worth it.”

Sooter said Harmon is charged with manslaughter for killing a man in a car crash, but is incarcerated for a number of other charges.

“He kept trying to say he was worthless, and all I was just telling him, 'You're not worthless, ya know. You just made a bad choice and, hopefully, you won't make that decision again,’” Hess said.

The sheriff said Harmon faces more felony charges, adding he is now in isolation and no longer a trustee.

Sooter said they will not put items near the secured fence again.