Two inmates charged with attempted escape after crawling into ceiling

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com
Two inmates at the Carter County Jail were charged with attempted escape Tuesday after they were caught crawling in the facility's ceiling.
Wade Evan Hampton, age 37, of 540 Cloudland Road, Roan Mountain, and Ralph Wayne Whitehead, age 24, of 401 Rittertown Road, Hampton, were charged with attempted escape in the incident. Hampton was being held on a warrant charging him with violation of probation and an attachment charging him with contempt of court. Whitehead was being held in jail on a charge of forgery, which is a felony offense according to the Tennessee Code Annotated.
According to reports, jailers who were on duty Wednesday heard a loud beating noise coming from the H-Block area of the detention facility and went to investigate it. "I entered H-Block and found a two-by-two hole in the ceiling near the shower," states a report by CCSD Deputy Jesse Booher, who was on duty when the incident occurred.
While another deputy began accounting for the inmates in H-Block, Booher went into the I-Block area of the jail to continue investigating. "After entering I-Block, I heard someone walking in the ceiling back towards H-Block," Booher states. At that point, Booher returned to H-Block where he and the other deputy observed Hampton and Whitehead exiting the hole from H-Block.
Booher had warrants charging the two with attempted escape and served the warrants on both Hampton and Whitehead Tuesday morning.
Carter County Sheriff John Henson was not available for comment on the incident Tuesday night, but in July of 2002, when a similar incident occurred at the Carter County Jail, Henson told The Star that the ventilation system duct work had allowed for problems with inmates to occur before - not only under his administration, but under other administrations as well.
"I remember several times, under other administrations, when inmates went into the roof and even went around to other parts of the jail," Henson told The Star in July 2002. "They kept it hidden -- it never happened -- but it sure did happen, because I was here. I remember one inmate going in and getting back into the evidence room."
In the 2002 incident, which occurred on July 9 of that year, a jailer heard what was described as "digging" noises around 11:30 p.m. coming through the wall between the trusty and laundry rooms. An investigation by jailers determined that the noises were coming from the D-Block area of the detention facility.
When jailers entered D-Block, they found two male inmates leaving the shower area. When they looked inside, they discovered a female inmate standing in one of the shower stalls wearing nothing but her bra and panties.
While jailers were removing the female inmate from the men's block of the jail, she advised the jailer that one of the male inmates had entered the women's block of the jail, G-Block. Jailers then entered G-Block and discovered the man in the ceiling area above the toilet in the block's day room.
The female subject involved in the incident advised the jailers that nothing of a sexual nature had transpired between the male inmates and herself.
Henson stated at that time that when male and female inmates are housed in the same facility, then incidents such as that would occur. "It's unfortunate, but until other arrangements are made with this ventilation system, we're going to have problems from time to time. Anytime you can take a vent out of the jail and go up into the roof, and go into another cell, it's bad," Henson said after the 2002 incident. "The vents have locks on them but what they do is tear the locks off. The ceiling is nothing but plaster and they can rip that vent out easily."
After the July 2002 incident, Henson stated that anyone who was caught in the ventilation system or the ceiling at the jail would be charged with attempted escape.
The Carter County Jail was recently recertified by the Tennessee Corrections Institute despite severe overcrowding problems as well as other issues affecting the facility. The detention facility is certified to house 91 inmates and the facility currently averages more than 220 inmates a day.