As the search for an inmate who walked away from the Randall Williams Correctional Facility at Pine Bluff entered its third day Monday, prison officials continued looking along Princeton Pike and expanded the search area westward.
Timothy E. Buffington, 47, is considered armed and dangerous. Buffington was serving a 20-year sentence for first-degree murder from Logan County and had been a trusty when he walked away from the prison at West 7th Avenue and Franklin Street on Saturday night.
It is believed he could have a shotgun, according to early reports from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
On Monday prison spokeswoman Shea Wilson said corrections officials still believe Buffington is in a dense and heavily wooded area along Princeton Pike, in the general area where they concentrated their search over much of the weekend.
“There’s not anything that could have taken him away from this area and the initial call (that a man was seen wearing prison whites and carrying a gun) also came from that area,” Wilson said, who had earlier said that witness did not see him get in a vehicle when he left.
“We’re also reaching out to the community, going house to house to make sure no one is under duress and to show his picture so that people will know what he looks like,” Wilson said. “He’s had time to change his clothes, put on a ball cap, so he might not look like the picture we have, so we want people to be aware of that.”
Reports that a shot had been fired Monday morning caused officials to do a more intense search in an area near Claud Road. At about 5 p.m. Monday, Wilson said the search had not lead to more information but they were still looking.
Also Monday searchers set up security checkpoints at several locations, stopping cars to look inside them and make sure the drivers were not under duress.
Law enforcement agencies have fielded a number of calls from people who reported seeing a man fitting Buffington’s general description in a variety of locations. But so far, they’ve turned out to be false alarms.
For example, on Princeton Pike Monday, State Police Sgt. Kim Fontaine and Special Agent Sgt. Kenneth Whitmore talked about a call that dispatchers had received between 1:15-1:30 p.m. about a man walking down Princeton Pike, and at about 3:30 p.m., an emergency dispatcher sent Pine Bluff police to the area near the main Post Office to check a report of a man fitting the description who was walking down State Street to the Salvation Army. A tip on Sunday led officials to the Car Mart on Blake Street, Wilson said.
“We’ve had some calls like that but not an overabundance and we’re going to check every one out,” Wilson said. “You never know if that next call will be the one that helps us catch this guy.”
In addition to corrections department personnel, the Arkansas State Police, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Pine Bluff Police Department and U.S. Marshal’s Service have all provided manpower in an effort to locate Buffington. The search has so far been limited to a ground search using horses, dogs and specially trained personnel. Wilson said if they get a more specific sighting — Buffington has not been seen since the initial sighting Saturday night — they may call in other tools like a state police helicopter to assist with the search.
Buffington, who also goes by “Bo” Buffington, is 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighs 182 pounds and has hazel eyes and auburn hair. He has a scar on his abdomen and on the upper back area of his left arm and a tattoo/mark/scar (his inmate file is unclear) on his right wrist. His last known address was in Booneville.
On Sunday, Wilson said corrections officials were also working with law enforcement officials in Buffington’s home town and points in between to interview anyone who might have information about him.
Buffington has been in prison since 1999 and was disciplinary-incident free. He became a trusty in 2003 and up until Saturday night had not been a problem, Wilson said. Corrections officials do not know what prompted the escape. Wilson said once they get him back in custody, they will try to explore the how and why. Right now public safety and getting him back into custody is their top priority, she said.
Anyone with information is asked to call 911.
“Exercise caution. If you see anything suspicious, call your local law enforcement and don’t forget that he is very likely armed,” Wilson said, thanking the public for their vigilance and their tips.
Initial reports from the sheriff’s office also indicated that a woman was taken hostage for a brief time when Buffington first escaped, but that she was released uninjured. Wilson said Monday that she had not confirmed the hostage report. Initial sheriff’s office reports also indicated that he could have a backpack of ammunition. Wilson said that report was also unconfirmed.
Over the weekend, one of the searchers on horseback was injured when the horse the officer was riding ran into a barbed-wire fence. The horse reared up and fell back on the officer. On Monday, Wilson said the person was expected to be released from the hospital Monday or Tuesday and was expected to make a full recovery. The name is not being released for health privacy reasons.