Marshals: Escaped inmate was hiding in Myrtle Beach

Sanders during a bond hearing in MB Friday
Sanders during a bond hearing in MB Friday

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF)  A man who the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office says escaped from jail 35 days ago was arrested in Myrtle Beach late Thursday night. Berkeley County authorities say James Sanders was able to slip out of the Berkeley County Detention Center on January 26.

When Myrtle Beach Police officers arrested Sanders they did not realize they had a suspected fugitive on their hands, but it did not take long for them to figure that out.

"According to arresting officers, they were called out to Broadway at the Beach a little before midnight last night," Captain David Knipes said. "Supposedly the suspect had met some females out at Broadway at the Beach, befriended them, had gone into a club with them and was dancing with them.

"One of the females lost her wallet or her wallet fell out of her purse onto the dance floor. The subject saw the wallet on the floor, picked it up, grabbed it and ran out the club with the female chasing him.

"He was stopped outside by Broadway at the Beach security and questioned. He tried to run from them also. They were able to detain him until we arrived."

Knipes said officer arrested Sanders and took him to the police department. He said Sanders gave officers a fake name, but officers also fingerprinted Sanders.

"The officers noticed some discrepancies in some of his statements," Knipes said. "When they fingerprinted him and photographed him the fingerprints came back as the wanted subject out of Berkeley County."

During a hearing Friday morning Sanders pled no contest to a larceny charge, and he pled guilty to giving a false name to police. The judge sentenced Sanders to 30 days in jail for each charge, but those sentences were suspended because a Berkeley County deputy was there to take Sanders back to the Hill-Finklea Detention Center in Moncks Corner where he was still facing domestic violence charges.

U.S. Marshals say they believe Sanders had been in the Myrtle Beach area since at least mid February. Deputy U.S. Marshal Frank Conroy said for at least a week Sanders stayed in a local hospital waiting room under a fake name, pretending to be related to a patient in a coma. Conroy did not name the hospital, but he said workers caught on and Sanders was escorted out without an I.D. check. Conroy said the hospital told marshals about the incident on Thursday, February 23.

On the following Monday, February 27, marshals alerted places such as the Myrtle Beach Community Kitchen that Sanders may be in the area.

"We had heard there was a man in the area that had escaped from the jail and everything," said Arnold Laws, a homeless man who volunteers at the kitchen.

On Wednesday, February 29, someone at the kitchen reported seeing Sanders eating breakfast there. Conroy said Sanders left before marshals arrived, and he did not return for lunch.

Laws said Sanders could have easily blended in without the alert from Marshals.

"You got people constantly in and out of the Myrtle Beach area," Laws explained.

Before apparently coming to the Grand Strand, video surveillance from MUSC in Charleston showed someone who appears to be Sanders walking around the facility a little more than a week after he reportedly escaped. Hospital officials confirmed Sanders visited a patient there February 3 and 4.

Berkeley County Sheriff's Office records show Sanders may have been able to leave jail because Sgt. Patricia Collins and Lt. Tony Riley failed to read Sanders' entire file before clearing him for release from the Hill-Finklea Detention Center. Authorities report that victim's advocates immediately fought the action and asked the officers to recheck Sanders' paperwork.

Investigation papers state that Collins said, "We have the discharge paper, we can't keep him here forever, it is what it is." The investigation also showed that Pfc. Tyler McWethy failed to secure Sanders' handcuffs.

Once Sanders was out of the handcuffs, he trailed behind jail worker Sgt. Rosemary Sanders who was going to her vehicle through the facility's employee parking door, authorities say. When the sergeant questioned Sanders on a detention center arm band he was still wearing, Sanders took it off, handed it to her and kept on walking.

In the aftermath, the four workers at the detention center faced consequences.

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