Escaped Md. Prisoner Ate From Trash, Drank From Puddles During 6-day Search

WASHINGTON — For six days, escaped prisoner David Watson rarely rested, ate food from trash cans and drank water from puddles, before he was found Wednesday hiding in a narrow drainage pipe, according to Howard County police.

Police Chief Gary Gardner said Watson had gotten out of several restraints while being transported to Clifton T. Perkins psychiatric hospital, in Jessup, Maryland, Friday, knocked over a Wicomico County Department of Corrections officer, evaded another officer, and had escaped into woods near the Perkins facility. Watson was serving a Delaware prison sentence on an attempted murder conviction.

In a Thursday morning news conference, Gardner said Watson had moved often, in approximately a 2-mile radius from Perkins, during his six days on the run, hiding in the woods and a network of drainage pipes.

Watson was captured around 9:40 p.m. Wednesday, off Dorsey Run Road, in Jessup.

“Tactical officers, while in the area we’d been checking earlier in the day, were able to use night-vision equipment, and in a 20-inch diameter drainage pipe, they located the suspect,” Gardner said. “There was a slight struggle, but overall he’s in good health.”

Gardner said the turning point happened earlier Wednesday when a man matching Watson’s description was spotted near railroad tracks on Dorsey Run Road.

According to the witness who dialed 911, “the man was wearing a white hard hat, a safety vest and dark-colored pants,” Gardner said.

“We were aware of a storage building nearby that he had been broken into, and that building had white hard hats and clothing in lockers,” said Gardner. “The hard hat and vest were not recovered when he was apprehended last night.”

Since his capture, Gardner said Watson “was cooperative,” and had provided information about where he went and what he did while on the run.

Gardner said Watson had kept moving, “in a 1 to 2 mile radius from Perkins.”

Near Perkins, investigators had discovered a 40-inch diameter drainpipe, where Watson had built a makeshift bed.

“He’d taken some wood fiber packing material in bags, and had laid them in that pipe, and that appeared to be where he was bedding down,” Gardner said. “He had been moving back and forth continually, he did not bed down for long periods of time.”

Watson survived on what he found.

“From conversations last night, he said he’d been eating out of trash cans and also drinking water from puddles,” Gardner said.

At this point of the investigation, police do not believe Watson had help in planning or executing his escape.

“We do not believe there’s been any assistance provided to him, or that there was a long term plan,” Gardner said. “We believe it evolved during the transport.”

Gardner did not address questions about how Watson got out of his restraints in the van, saying the Wicomico County Department of Corrections would conduct an internal administrative review.

However, charging documents detail the chain of events.

According to an arrest warrant, signed by Howard County detective Mark Ambrose, Watson had been strip searched before being placed in leg iron restraints and chained handcuffs, which were secured to a chain waist belt, which was secured with a keyed padlock. Over the chain and keyhole of the handcuffs, a black lock box was secured, also with a small, keyed padlock.

The two officers “secured their weapons in designated lockboxes located in the driver’s cab of the transport van,” according to the warrant.

As the officer opened the van door, “Watson forcefully pushed” the officer to the ground “and began running across the parking lot toward a densely wooded area,” apparently with his legs somehow restrained.

The officer who was knocked over “advised that as he fell to the ground he heard what he believed to be handcuffs hitting the ground.”

After a brief chase, the officer lost sight of Watson in the woods.

“It was discovered that the handcuffs and chain waist belt were discarded in the parking lot just next to the van,” Ambrose wrote. “No leg shackles were ever located.”

Watson was not wearing shackles when he was apprehended, Gardner said.

Watson is now charged with one count of first-degree escape from the Wicomico County Detention Center, one count of first-degree and second-degree escape from Clifton T. Perkins, and one count of second-degree assault of the corrections officer, who suffered a minor injury to his elbow.

Watson was scheduled to appear in court for a bond review Thursday.

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