RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina authorities used a helicopter and bloodhounds Monday to search for a convicted killer who walked away from a state prison farm more than five hours before the public was notified.
James J. Ladd was first noticed missing Sunday morning, after the tractor he had been operating was found abandoned in a field outside the minimum security Tillery Correctional Center.
Ladd, 51, was serving three life sentences for the 1980 robbery and shooting deaths of two men in Yadkin County.
He had been a reasonably well-behaved inmate, according to records, with no infractions listed for violent behavior while in prison. Still, officials warned anyone who comes in contact with Ladd to steer clear and call 911.
Convicted of double first-degree murder, Ladd became eligible for parole after serving 30 years but was denied release in January 2011, according to records. His next parole review is scheduled for 2014.
Pamela Walker, a spokeswoman from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, said Monday it was not clear how long Ladd was missing before the staff at the prison noticed his absence.
A statement released by the prison system Sunday had said the inmate wasn't noticed missing until shortly before noon, but Walker said Monday staff at the prison first noticed the abandoned tractor about 10 a.m.
The local sheriff's office was called at noon and the first public notice of the escape was issued at 3:27 p.m. on Sunday.
"I'm sure that is something our folks will review, but the focus right now is getting him back into custody," Walker said of the timeline.
Tillery Correctional is located in a rural area more than an hour's drive east of Raleigh. More than 60 Prison Emergency Response Team members and correctional officers have been assigned to the search, along with several State Wildlife officers and Alcohol Law Enforcement agents.
Walker said all inmates, other than those sentenced to death or life without parole, have the opportunity to work their way into minimum custody and prepare for their eventual release.
There are currently 382 inmates with life sentences housed in minimum security facilities in North Carolina. Many are assigned to Tillery, where inmates labor on the prison farm to prepare for re-entering society.
"Inmate farm workers are supervised, but not continuously monitored," Walker said Monday. "Depending on their job assignment, some inmates have direct supervision and some have graduated to a level where they are checked on periodically."
Records show Ladd is the seventh North Carolina inmate to escape in 2012. All the others have been recaptured. The last two inmates who escaped Tillery, in December 2007, were apprehended two days later in South Carolina.
The last convicted murderer to escape, 47-year-old Martin Pedron, also absconded from Tillery. Pedron is still at large, according to records.
Ladd is white with blue eyes, graying hair and a beard, though authorities said he may have shaved since his escape. He stands 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs about 140 pounds. He was last seen wearing green pants and a white t-shirt, but may also have a pair of black pants.
Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck