2 Allegany jail guards are fired in inmates' August '90 escape


CUMBERLAND -- The Allegany County sheriff has fired two jail guards who were on duty the night former guard Sandra Kay Beeman is charged with helping two inmates, one of whom was her professed lover, to escape.

The guards, Michelle M. Puderbaugh, 47, of Cumberland and Gary C. Huffman, 36, of Cresaptown, were dismissed last month "as a result of violations of standard operating procedures," said Sheriff Gary Simpson.

Mrs. Puderbaugh and Mr. Huffman said they were told they failed to follow procedures the night of Aug. 29, when inmates Edgar Eugene Kerns and James Vernon Barnes escaped from the jail.

Sheriff Simpson would not go into detail about the dismissals. "I can't say any more. This all may end up in court," he said.

Authorities said Mrs. Beeman, 46, a guard at the Allegany County Jail for 10 years, helped Kerns and Barnes escape from the prison. Mrs.Beeman has said that she and Kerns were lovers and that she hoped to marry him.

She is charged with escape and related offenses and is being held in the jail in lieu of $500,000 bail. No date for her trial has been set.

Mr. Huffman, who usually worked in the annex next door that houses work-release inmates, worked that Sunday night in the main jail as a supervisor, a role he said he performed two days a week.

He had left the jail to make a trip to a local convenience store, something Mrs. Beeman usually did. He returned to discover the escape had taken place. He said he had simply followed procedures that had been common practice at the jail.

"I think we're being unfairly singled out," Mr. Huffman said. "They were looking for someone to blame, and they waited four months to charge us and six months to dismiss us."

Mrs. Puderbaugh had been working in the control room area of thejail when she was confronted by Kerns, who had his arm around Mrs. Beeman's neck and was holding some kind of object in a sock, she said. Barnes followed shortly behind Kerns, she said.

Mrs. Puderbaugh said Kerns indicated that he wanted to take heralong as a hostage. Hoping to avoid giving the inmate another hostage, she said, she locked herself in the bathroom. After Mrs. Beeman and the two inmates fled, she alerted the police, and the search for the escapers began.

"I think this was entirely unjustified," Mrs. Puderbaugh said. "We're being made scapegoats in this."

The officers have filed a grievance with the county. A hearing date before County Attorney John McMullen has not yet been set.

Barnes was caught by police four days later in Hampshire County, W. Va. He was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in the escape. He is to serve the sentence after completing a 50-year sentence inVirginia for rape and kidnapping.

Kerns and Mrs. Beeman remained at large until Oct. 18, when a couple managing a motel in Hamilton, Ontario, saw their photos on the television program "Unsolved Mysteries" and recognized them as the couple registered at their motel as Mr. and Mrs. Fred Smith.

They were captured by Canadian police and brought back to Cumberland by Allegany County deputies on Oct. 29.

Kerns is still awaiting trial on escape charges. He was sentenced last month to 18 months on a bad check charge and also was charged with threatening to kill Allegany County Circuit Court Judge Frederick Sharer.

He is being held at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown.

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