Tracking dogs and scores of police searched today for six inmates who escaped the maximum-security St. Clair Correctional Facility by sliding under a 5,000-volt electric fence.
The escapees included three convicted murderers, two of whom were serving life without parole. The third was serving a life term.
All six were considered dangerous, but authorities were unsure whether they were armed.
The men fled the prison after dark Tuesday by using a broom stick to lift an electrified fence so they could slide under it, Prison Commissioner Mike Haley said. Then they went under a second fence that wasn't electrified, he said.
Police Use Roadblocks and Helicopters
"We don't know if there was a car waiting for them," Haley said. "The dogs picked up their scent, both by footprints and track, but we have been unable to locate them."
The six could have fled into dense, hilly forestland that surrounds the prison, located near St. Clair Springs about 20 miles northeast of Birmingham.
Haley said the men were discovered missing during an 8 p.m. head count but could have escaped as early as 5:30 p.m., giving them a head start on searchers.
Sheriff's deputies, city police and state troopers put up roadblocks to check vehicles passing through the area. A state helicopter flew overhead looking for the men.
Convicted Murderers, Robbers in Group
Haley said O.C. Borden, 33, and Gary Scott, 31, were both serving sentences of life without parole for capital murder. Borden was convicted in Limestone County, Scott in Cullman County.
Steve Murphy, 45, was sentenced to life imprisonment for a murder conviction in Colbert County, and Jack Allred, 43, was serving life without parole for robbery in Jefferson County.
Billy Gamble, 24, was serving 25 years for a robbery in Marshall County, and James McClain, 35, was sentenced to 20 years for a burglary in Morgan County.
Haley said prison officials were unsure whether the fugitives were copying last month's prison breakout by seven Texas inmates. "It's crossed our minds," he said.
St. Clair is one of three maximum-security lockups in the state. The prison has 1,301 inmates but only 188 correctional officers, about 65 fewer than officials say are needed.
The state installed the electric fence about five years ago under the administration of former Gov. Fob James, who used the fence as a backstop against what Haley called inadequate staffing.
"Obviously, it didn't function as it was supposed to," he said.