'Back at square one': Alabama police find abandoned SUV but escaped inmate, officer still missing
Authorities on Friday said they found the getaway vehicle an escaped inmate and corrections officer may have used when they mysteriously disappeared from a northern Alabama jail one week ago.
But officials say the officer, Vicky White, 56, and inmate, Casey White, 38, were long gone by the time authorities located the abandoned 2007 orange Ford Edge in a Tennessee towing lot. Authorities say the officer used an alias to purchase the SUV and is likely using new false identities as the manhunt continues for the pair.
"We're sort of at a loss," Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said Friday, noting the discovery of the vehicle puts them "back at square one."
"This is a very calculated plan," he added.
In response, officials increased the reward for the pair to the largest sum allowed under state law. Up to $10,000 is now being offered for information leading to the officer's arrest and another $15,000 for information leading to the capture of the inmate, a total of $25,000.
Sheriff Singleton said officials found the vehicle in Williamson County, Tenn., on a rural roadside off Interstate 65, about 100 miles from the jail in Florence, Ala. He said the vehicle was abandoned and towed April 29, the day the pair went missing, even before officials knew they had disappeared.
Authorities in Tennessee didn’t initially realize until Thursday it was the same vehicle sought in the escape. They are now trying to determine whether any vehicles had been reported missing in the area, he said.
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No weapons were found in the car, indicating that the two are still armed, said Singleton. He added officials are canvassing the sparsely populated area where the car was dumped for witnesses.
Some of Vicky White’s belongings were found in the vehicle, which someone had attempted to spray paint, he said.
The tow truck driver who hauled the vehicle to a lot likely saw news coverage about the escape and notified police in Tennessee, Singleton said. “There’s no fault or blame on anyone,” he said.
The way the vehicle was abandoned indicates they may have had mechanical issues, he added.
"I think it threw them a curve and they didn't plan for that," he said. "They've obviously had plenty of time to recover from that."
Vicky White had multiple aliases and used one of them to purchase the vehicle, Singleton said. She was spotted on video staying at a Quality Inn the night before the escape, which was walking distance from where she purchased the Ford SUV. Authorities said she withdrew roughly $90,000 from area banks before they fled, money she likely accrued from the sale of her home just days before both she and the inmate went missing.
Singleton said it's likely she's using new fake identities now.
Vicky White, who worked as the assistant director for corrections, and CaseyWhite vanished last week after leaving together from the Lauderdale County Detention Center in Florence, Alabama. The pair, who authorities have said had a "special relationship" that spanned at least two years, were supposed to be leaving for a courthouse appointment that turned out not to exist, Singleton said.
"It's obviously a jailhouse romance," Singleton said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Marshals Service said in a Friday statement to CNN that White made threats against his ex-girlfriend and her sister, saying that if he got out of jail he "would kill them." Authorities have warned his potential targets about his escape and have taken "appropriate protective actions," according to the statement.
Casey White was convicted of kidnapping and attempted murder charges after he tried to kill his ex-girlfriend and kidnap her two roommates. He was sentenced in 2019 to 75 years in prison. He also faces capital murder charges in the 2015 murder-for-hire slaying of Connie Ridgeway after he confessed to the killing while in custody.
The agency also released new photos of the pair, including pictures of the inmate's tattoos, according to CNN. The release included photos of Vicky White with her hair darker from her normal blonde, saying she may have changed her hair color.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday the two fugitives should be “regarded as extremely dangerous" and armed, warning anyone who spots them not to approach the pair.
Singleton also told CNN investigators have gotten tips of reported sightings from Florida to Kentucky.
"The tips that we're getting, we're following up on as aggressively as we can," he said. "Some of them do look promising, but it takes a time to follow through on those things. We're hoping that one of them will pan out for us, and we'll be able to locate them."
The jail where Vicky White worked is still reeling from the events. Vicky White had sold her home for $95,000 and turned in paperwork to retire. The day she disappeared was supposed to be her last day at the sheriff's office, Singleton said.
Her office had planned a retirement party and bought gifts for her on the day of the escape, the sheriff told AL.com. He said many staff members "almost looked at her as a mother figure."
“They’re just devastated," Singleton said, adding that the department brought in counselors for the employees.
Vicky White faces charges including permitting or facilitating escape of an inmate after authorities said she participated in the escape. She was also fired from her position, eliminating payments she'd receive from her pension.
Authorities said the two-year relationship between Vicky and Casey White, who are not related, included prison visits and phone calls. The relationship also included special privileges for Casey White, fellow inmates told investigators.
Surveillance footage showed Vicky White alone as she escorted Casey White out of the detention center last Friday, in violation of department policy. The pair drove to a parking lot, where Vicky White's abandoned patrol car was found later that day.