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Howard ground search called off as escaped prisoner eludes authorities for second day

Howard County Police are searching for a prisoner who escaped from Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in the 8400 block of Dorsey Run Road in Jessup. David M. Watson, 28, was being transported to the hospital by  Wicomico County Detention Center guards.
Howard County Police are searching for a prisoner who escaped from Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in the 8400 block of Dorsey Run Road in Jessup. David M. Watson, 28, was being transported to the hospital by  Wicomico County Detention Center guards. (Howard County Police / HANDOUT)

A maximum-security inmate who escaped from a Jessup mental hospital parking lot eluded police for a second day Saturday, alarming nearby residents and business owners, and prompting questions about how he was able to break free and remain on the run.

The prisoner, David M. Watson II, 28, freed himself from handcuffs and a waist chain and escaped about 9:40 a.m. Friday from the custody of two Wicomico County Detention Center guards in the parking lot of the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center near Dorsey Run Road and Patuxent Range Road in Jessup.

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Watson, convicted in Delaware of attempted murder after shooting into a police officer's home in 2012, is serving a 106-year sentence.

Howard County police suspended their ground search near the hospital Saturday afternoon, "after exhausting all search efforts in the immediate area" with officers, K-9 units and helicopters with heat-seeking technology, officials said.

Howard County detectives, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Maryland State Police are following leads locally, in Wicomico County and in Delaware, where Watson has ties, officials said.

"There are no indications that Watson remains in the area," Howard County police said in a news release.

Investigators have received no confirmed sightings Saturday of Watson, who is described as 5 feet 8 inches tall and 140 pounds. He was wearing all-white clothing at the time of his escape. A $5,000 reward has been offered for information on his whereabouts.

In 2014, a Wicomico County Circuit Court judge ruled that Watson — whose many tattoos include the word "evil" on the back of his neck — was not mentally competent to stand trial on charges that he had fired into the homes of police officers in Maryland. He has undergone regular psychiatric evaluations since then, officials said.

Monica Wright, 68, of Savage, came home early from work Friday out of concern for her 9-year-old granddaughter, whose school, Bollman Bridge Elementary in Jessup, went into a modified lockdown as a precaution, she said.

Wright said she has kept a closer eye on the 9-year-old, who likes to ride her bike in the neighborhood, since the escape.

"I home they catch him. It is a concern," she said. "I had to tell her yesterday, 'Stay close to the house, so I can see you.'"

Johnita Argrow, 30, who has a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old at Bollman Bridge, said she doubted an inmate on the run would venture near a school and would probably try to flee the area as quickly as possible.

"The first place they're going is not an elementary school," she said. "They're trying to get as far from jail as possible."

Watson had been picked up from Sussex County Correctional Facility in Delaware and taken to the Wicomico County Detention Center before being brought to Perkins in Jessup, officials said.

As he was being removed from a transport van, he knocked a guard to the ground and ran into the woods, officials said. His restraints included leg irons, handcuffs, a waist chain and a device called a black box, which makes it more difficult for an inmate to tamper with handcuffs. The handcuffs and chain were found near the van, along with two articles of clothing.

Video footage shows that correctional officers followed proper procedures in putting Watson in restraints before he left the Wicomico jail, according to George Kaloroumakis, that county's corrections director.

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The lookout for Watson didn't keep more than a dozen customers from taking advantage of the sunny, 90-degree Saturday to stop by Columbia Junction Car Wash nearby on Washington Boulevard.

Manager Jesse Hall, 20, said he was requiring employees to escort each other outside after work, especially given Watson's record.

"He's probably thinking life-or-death," Hall said. "You're doing 106 years. You're not seeing sunlight."

The incident should prompt a review of area law enforcement's prisoner security protocols, said Becky Delagarza, 39, of Elkridge.

"For him not to be found for that many hours, it's concerning," she said.

Thomas Viaduct Middle School in Hanover canceled outdoor activities and entered a modified lockdown for several hours Friday, according to Delagarza's 12-year-old son, Ben, a student there.

"Everyone thought it was a drill," he said.

Pedro Balazios, 53, of Columbia said he'd seen three police helicopters, several state troopers and a SWAT truck in the area Friday.

Authorities have a responsibility to tell the public about what is being done to find Watson and to prevent a similar escape in the future, he said.

"They need to do something to make people feel safe," he said. "We need to feel safe."

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