Missing corrections officer ‘willingly’ participated in inmate’s escape, sheriff says

(NEW YORK) — Authorities now believe that an Alabama corrections officer “willingly” participated in the escape of a capital murder suspect, according to the local sheriff in charge of the investigation.

“The pieces of the puzzle just came together,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton told ABC News in an interview Wednesday on Good Morning America.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he added. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Wednesday marked the sixth day of an intense search for Lauderdale County Assistant Director of Corrections Vicki White, 56, and inmate Casey White, 38. The pair — who authorities said are not related — went missing from Florence, Alabama, on Friday. That morning at the Lauderdale County Detention Center, Vicki White allegedly told her colleagues she was taking Casey White to the local courthouse for a “mental health evaluation,” though he didn’t have a court appearance scheduled. She violated policy by escorting the inmate alone, according to the sheriff.

“This particular guy and someone like that, no, that should have never happened, even if we had to delay getting him to court,” Singleton told ABC News on Wednesday.

Casey White, who is 6 feet, 9 inches tall, was charged with two counts of capital murder in September 2020 for the stabbing of 58-year-old Connie Ridgeway. He could face the death penalty if convicted, according to the sheriff.

The inmate previously planned an escape from the Lauderdale County Detention Center in the fall of 2020, but authorities thwarted the plot before he could attempt it, the sheriff said. When authorities got word of the scheme, they found a homemade knife in his possession and learned that he was planning to take a hostage, according to the sheriff. Casey White was subsequently transferred to a state prison, where he remained until February 2022, when he returned to the Lauderdale County facility for court appearances related to the murder charge, the sheriff said.

Investigators have since learned that Casey White and Vicki White had a “special relationship” and were communicating after he was transferred from the county jail to state custody, according to the sheriff. The nature of that communication was not immediately clear.

“We know that they maintained contact while he was in the department of corrections up to and including until he was returned here Feb. 25 of this year,” Singleton told ABC News on Wednesday.

The pair “should be considered dangerous and may be armed with an AR-15 rifle, handguns and a shotgun,” and may be driving a 2007 orange or copper Ford Edge with minor damage to the left back bumper, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.

The U.S. Marshals Service is offering up to $10,000 reward for information leading to Casey White’s capture and a $5,000 reward for information leading to Vicky White. A warrant was issued for Vicki White charging her with permitting or facilitating escape.

As of Wednesday morning, investigators “don’t have any idea where they might be,” the sheriff told ABC News.

“We were making some good progress on that. We may be hindered now that some of that information has gotten out,” he added. “But, you know, we’re still working around the clock to locate them and try to get them back in custody.”

Singleton has described Vicki White, a 17-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, as “an exemplary employee.” He said she had been talking about retiring for the last few months and turned in her paperwork last Thursday. The day she and Casey White went missing was set to be her last day on the job, according to the sheriff.

“My message would be: Vicki, you’ve been in this business for 17 years, you’ve seen this scenario play out more than once and you know how it always ends,” Singleton told ABC News on Wednesday. “Now go ahead and end it now, get to a phone and call 911, turn yourself in and help us get Casey White back behind bars because you know that’s where he’s going to eventually end up.”

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