On Princeton Pike, residents try to maintain sense of normalcy

The Princeton Pike area was a hubbub of activity Tuesday afternoon as officials on high alert continue the search for escaped inmate, Timothy E. Buffington.

Buffington, 47, walked away from the housing area of the Pine Bluff Complex on Saturday evening and a search of the heavily wooded area near Princeton Pike that began after the escape has so far been unsuccessful. He was serving a 20-year sentence for first-degree murder from Logan County and at the time of his escape, had been in prison for 15 years. He was a trusty.

At about 1:30 p.m on the corner of Barraque and Bryant streets, Pine Bluff police officers signaled drivers to slow down as they spot-checked vehicles. A group of squad cars congregated temporarily at Rick’s Quick Stop before speeding off.

“It’s the way it’s been around here for the past few days,” said Rick Williamson, owner of the corner convenience store and gas station.

Williamson, who lives next door to his store, said that his business is not suffering.

“It’s been affected but in a good way,” Williamson said. “With so many correctional officers, the canine and the extra officers visible, I actually have more traffic than usual.”

Williamson said he would be lying if he said he wasn’t concerned, but he believes the authorities are working diligently to quickly capture Buffington. In the meantime, he is paying a little closer attention when he leaves the store at night. Other than that, he said things are rather normal.

For Lealer Jackson, however, everything has changed in her daily routine. Jackson said she came home Saturday night to discover her home had been broken into. Jackson said she arrived home with her granddaughter at about 9 p.m. to discover someone had tampered with the front door. After calling 911, it was determined someone had entered the premises.

“I am just so thankful I was not at home in bed,” said 67-year-old Jackson, who is in a wheelchair. “I know it was the Lord who protected me because I normally go to bed about 8.”

Jackson said she has called on her pastor and others for assistance for things she normally does on her own.

“I have to have someone here just to leave the house,” she said. “I am just on pins and needles until they catch him.”

Lt. Yohance Brunson of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said it has not been established if the break-in is related to Buffington’s escape. He said Jackson reported jewelry missing from her home.

Roy Smith has only lived in the vicinity for nine months. He did not know until Tuesday that an inmate had escaped.

“It makes me kind of nervous,” Smith said. “I have six boys that play on these streets. But they won’t be going outside no time soon without someone, an adult watching them.”

“They need to do more to let us know when something like this happens,” said Lolita Ojofeitimi who has lived in the area all her life. “I’m really not afraid, it’s just the fact of how they go about sharing information about escapees.”

Ojofeitimi said officers should make more of an effort to alert those living closest to the correctional facility.

“They should knock on people’s doors, or stop as they are driving around the neighborhood to make sure people know what’s going on,” Ojofeitimi said.

Although Ojofeitimi said she doubts the escapee would still be in the area, she too is taking extra precautions.

“I won’t be taking my normal walks. Everybody is inside more, and paying more attention to their surroundings,” she said.

On Princeton Pike Monday, Jack Johnson, who lives on Hardin-Reed Road about a mile from the site of a checkpoint, said he thinks Buffington “might be in Mexico or California by now.”

If Buffington is still in the woods, as prison officials believe, Johnson said Buffington would have gotten hungry by now.

“You can’t live without food and water so maybe he caught a squirrel and cooked it,” Johnson said.

— Staff writer Ray King contributed to this report