A 22-year-old man was charged in district court yesterday with escaping from Dukes County Jail and House of Correction in Edgartown last weekend. David Luce, who was close to finishing a two-and-a-half-year sentence for assault and battery and indecent assault and battery, was discovered missing from the jail at approximately 2:55 a.m. last Saturday.
With the assistance of state and Oak Bluffs police, he was found almost 12 hours later in Oak Bluffs. Law enforcement investigations in the case continue on several fronts, as there are concerns that Mr. Luce may have escaped more than once from the jail, returning before his absence was noted.
Dukes County sheriff Mike McCormack said yesterday: "[We] are investigating the possibility that this was not the first time he has left the facility. Can I tell you how many times? I can't tell you that until the investigation is completed."
During the search for evidence in connection with the escape, law enforcement authorities also reportedly found counterfeit bills. It is not known whether those fake bills were manufactured by Mr. Luce or an inmate at the jail or elsewhere.
Sheriff McCormack said Mr. Luce "somehow got possession of a screw driver. He unscrewed some screws on a security screen." The window was on the ground floor of a modular unit. "He was in minimum security, sleeping in a bed in a day room," the sheriff said.
Mr. Luce's disappearance was discovered during a routine hourly bed check. The window was left open. Mr. Luce is believed to have scaled a 10-foot fence which has barbed wire at the top.
The sheriff said a command post was established at the jail. State trooper Lynne Mulkerrin responded, and troopers Gary Berlo and Thomas Forest were called in with their tracking dogs. The two were instrumental in finding Mr. Luce later Saturday.
Oak Bluffs police responded and included Erik Blake, Tim Williamson and Jeff Young.
"The first thing we did was to secure the ports, the Steamship Authority, the Patriot Too and the Martha's Vineyard Airport," Sheriff McCormack said. A wanted poster was quickly put together and circulated to police and the National Guard at the airport.
Relatives and friends of Mr. Luce, an Island resident, were called. "We notified family and friends and said that if he contacts you to have him call us and make arrangements to turn himself in. He is in less trouble if he turns himself in."
Police did suspect Mr. Luce would go see his girlfriend. The next day he was discovered near her home. On Saturday, Sheriff McCormack said, the state police search dogs picked up Mr. Luce's scent near the Trade Winds Airport. "While they were in the airport area we got a telephone call that said he was sighted in the Leslie Lane area, off of County Road. Everyone responded.
"We caught him in the area where his girlfriend resides," the sheriff said. Two county deputies, Major Durwood (Woody) Araujo and Capt. James Nevill, first spotted him. They ran after him, caught him and handcuffed him.
The sheriff said that for escaping, Mr. Luce now faces a potential penalty of another two-and-a-half-year sentence in jail. "He probably would have been out in two weeks," the sheriff said.
The sheriff said police are investigating whether anyone either helped Mr. Luce escape or harbored him during his hours as a fugitive.
On Monday and Tuesday, the sheriff said, steel bars were added to windows in the minimum security area.
He said there is an investigation into where Mr. Luce had acquired the necessary screw driver to make the escape.
Already two employees at the jail have been reprimanded in connection with the escape, sources told the Gazette.
Tisbury chief Ted Saulnier told the Gazette yesterday the Tisbury investigation into the appearance of a counterfeit bill at Cumberland Farms the week before has since been turned over to the federal Secret Service. "The inmate escape happened last Saturday. One week earlier, we went over to Cumberland Farms and investigated a report of a counterfeit bill. As a result of information given to us and after having been contacted by the sheriff on Sunday, we have turned the entire investigation over to the Secret Service." Chief Saulnier said the investigation into the bad bill was headed up by Sgt. Bob Fiske.
Sheriff McCormack said Mr. Luce was in a minimum security area of the facility because he had been approved for parole and pre-release. "His living area is a day room during the day," he said. "The modular unit has six single units, a laundry room, bath area and a day room area. When we have more than six inmates in minimum security we have to house them in the day room." The sheriff said Mr. Luce had been there since March. He said Mr. Luce had participated in the road cleanup program.
In August of 1999, Mr. Luce was picked up by state police in Yarmouthport after having allegedly threatened to shoot police officers and then kill himself.
A few days after being captured and brought to the Vineyard, he tried to escape from Edgartown District Court. Sheriff McCormack said: "He was in the custody of court officers at the time. He was in the courthouse, ran down the stairs and was apprehended as he tried to leave the building."
Mr. Luce's case has been continued to May 30 for pretrial conference.