Neighbor Says he Unwittingly Helped Woman Accused of Chopper Escape
WELLFORD, S.C. (AP) _ A neighbor of the woman accused of hijacking a helicopter and helping three men escape from prison says he and his wife unwittingly helped the woman.
Tommy Tedrick, who lives next to the mobile home where Joyce Bailey Mattox lived in the Spartanburg County town of Wellford, says he and his wife Leah helped Mrs. Mattox drive two cars, later used in the getaway, to rural Greenville County near the prison.
He said they then drove her to the helicopter rental center where the chopper was rented.
″We really got caught in the middle,″ Tedrick said Friday. ″If we ever dreamed something like this would happen, I wouldn’t have even thought of doing it.″
Tedrick said Mrs. Mattox gave him and his wife $25 in cash and $10 worth of gas for their help.
Tedrick said Mrs. Mattox asked him about a week ago for help in buying a gun, but that he refused. Another neighbor, Denise Brockman, said she also refused a request from Mrs. Mattox for help in buying a gun.
″She wanted to know if she could get a shotgun for protection,″ Ms. Brockman said. ″She said she was having trouble with her ex-husband.″
Mrs. Mattox is accused of hijacking a helicopter Thursday, forcing the pilot to land at Perry Correctional Institution near Pelzer and picking up the inmates.
Lt. Tommy Smith of the Greenville County Sheriff’s Department said Saturday that the search for the four was continuing but that authorities were no closer to finding them than they were Friday.
Tedrick said they drove about 20 miles from Wellford to Greenville County and parked one of the cars at a convenience store and a second a few miles away. Then they drove Mrs. Mattox to Palmetto Helicopters, where she told the couple she wanted to take a sightseeing trip, he said.
Tedrick said Mrs. Mattox told them she was leaving the cars for a friend to pick up.
Mrs. Mattox was vague about her eventual destination, Tedrick said. At one point, she said she was going to fly back to Spartanburg but later she said was going to Texas to visit relatives, he said.
″She kept talking in riddles,″ he said. ″She didn’t want us to know anything. The whole deal sounded funny, and I knew it was strange.″
Smith confirmed Tedrick’s story but wouldn’t say if charges might be filed against Tedrick and his wife or against Junior Miller of Wellford, a friend of Mrs. Mattox who owns the cars used in the escape.
Mrs. Mattox is charged in a federal warrant with air piracy, a charge that carries a penalty of 20 years to life in prison. State warrants charge her with aiding and abetting an escape and assault and battery with intent to kill in the shooting of a prison guard.
The inmates - Jesse Glenn Smith, 36, of Easley; William Ballew, 42, of Greenville; and convicted murderer James Rodney Leonard, 20, of Greenville - were charged in state warrants with escape and assault and battery with intent to kill the guard, said Don Dease, regional administrator for the state Department of Corrections.
All four were charged with wounding a prison guard because investigators have not determined who fired the shot that struck him, Brown said.
The guard, shot as he was trying to pull the inmates from the chopper, was in fair condition Saturdy at Greenville Memorial Hospital recovering from surgery, a hospital spokeswoman said. The shot broke his jaw and knocked out several teeth.
Leonard was serving a life sentence for murder; Smith, 40 years for armed robbery, receiving stolen goods and assault and battery with intent to kill; and Ballew, 23 years and three months for armed robbery, contempt of court and attempted escape.