As state and local officials continue their search for escaped prison inmate Timothy Buffington, a 911 tape revealed more details about events leading up to the escape and a key witness against Buffington in his 1999 murder trial said Tuesday he is apprehensive that Buffington could be coming after him.
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 10 p.m. Tuesday, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Shea Wilson said in an email, “We are in Grant County, just over [the] line. Man says he saw him in field. [We] have dogs running and National Guard helicopter is in air.”
Shortly before press time at midnight she said they were still looking in the area.
The 911 call, which The Commercial obtained a copy of Tuesday, was made by a female who said she lived on the grounds of the Arkansas Department of Corrections and said she had been “kidnapped and just got away.”
The woman said “he is armed and he will shoot” and said she “needed some assistance as soon as possible.”
The tape goes on to say “he has a shotgun,” and later the female says the man, who was determined to be Buffington, had ammunition as well as keys to all the houses in the area that are occupied by DOC personnel, as well as the keys to a state-owned vehicle.
Tuesday afternoon, Wilson said Buffington tried to get the woman to drive him off the prison grounds but she was able to get away and ran to the Randall Williams complex where she called 911.
Regarding the keys, Wilson said they have all been accounted for and there are no vehicles missing.
Wilson said Buffington was able to obtain a loaded shotgun by breaking into a safe room at the house. The door was locked with a deadbolt but Buffington was able to enter the room by kicking the door frame out.
Previous reports that he also had a backpack with extra ammunition were not accurate, she said. At this time, correction officials believe he only has the ammunition that was in the gun when it was stolen. He was also able to obtain a camouflage hat and clothing but it is unclear where those items came from.
Buffington was wearing the camouflage clothing when he tried to break into a house in the Princeton Pike area Saturday at about 7:20 p.m., according to video obtained by the Department of Corrections and released to the media.
That video shows Buffington approaching the back door of a house several times, knocking on the door and finally trying to force the door open with his shoulder. The barrel of the shotgun was clearly visible in the video, which prison officials obtained from the residents of the house, who were not at home Saturday and only discovered the attempt when they watched the video and turned it over to officials Monday.
Wilson said prison officials believe Buffington ran through the woods after leaving the prison grounds before trying to break into that house.
There was also a third sighting Saturday night which leads officials to believe that Buffington is still hiding in the area and why they’re continuing to search that area, Wilson said.
“We have no information that would indicate that he was taken away from the area and if we receive information that he has possibly gone somewhere else, we will investigate that,” Wilson said, adding that corrections officials have continued to push the search westward and on Tuesday were working backward from the Grant County line, an area that is sparsely populated and heavily wooded.
“We’ve had tips from that area and as long as we continue to get tips, we’re going to stay in that area till we get something that leads us somewhere else,” she said.
Wilson said in a press release Tuesday morning that the department’s focus is on public safety and getting Buffington back into custody. A full investigation on the issues surrounding his escape will be conducted after he is back in custody.
Buffington was convicted of first-degree murder in 1999 in the shooting death of his ex-wife, Rhonda Combs, 23, who was shot in the back of the head while she sat in a pickup truck with her boyfriend near the Booneville city limits, according to archive articles from the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith.
That man, Wayne Fletcher, said in a phone interview Tuesday that after Combs was shot, he drove to the Booneville police station where he contacted police.
He said he saw Buffington shoot Combs and had to testify against him in court.
“I was pretty upset when I found out he had escaped and I’m still upset,” Fletcher said. “He’s been locked up this whole time and I thought, ‘What if he’s coming after me?’”
He said Combs and Buffington were involved in a custody battle over their two children. Combs had custody of a girl while Buffington had custody of a boy that she was also trying to get custody of.
“They had been divorced for a few years and she had been married and divorced after that so it wasn’t like they were still married,” he said.
Fletcher also said he had not been contacted by anyone from the Logan County Sheriff’s Office since the escape.
“None of the sheriff’s department people or the sheriff came out to tell me,” he said. “A friend told me about it after seeing it on Facebook.”
Fletcher also said he believed the sheriff’s department should have contacted him by telephone to be sure that he was all right but that hasn’t been done.
An attempt to contact the sheriff’s office at Booneville late Tuesday afternoon was unsuccessful.
Wilson said Tuesday afternoon that corrections officials have contacted law enforcement agencies in areas where Buffington was known to have contacts or relatives.
The Southwest Times Record at Fort Smith reported Tuesday that a dispatcher at the Logan County Sheriff’s Office said law enforcement agencies in the area have been made aware of Buffington’s escape and have been receiving updated information from state law enforcement officials.
Buffington is 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 182 pounds. He should be considered armed and dangerous.
Wilson said rumors that Buffington has cancer or is terminally ill are false. Wilson also said it would not have been out of the ordinary for a trusty to be on that part of the grounds on a weekend evening.
Anyone with information about Buffington should contact 911 or local law enforcement.