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Helicopter Escapees Woken By Police And Arrested

December 24, 1985

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) _ A woman accused of hijacking a helicopter and flying three convicts to a short-lived freedom admitted she did it to rescue her imprisoned lover, authorities said.

The woman, Joyce Bailey Mattox, 40, and the three men, who had vowed never to be taken alive, were captured early Monday as officers woke them from sleep in their stolen car, parked at a rest stop along Interstate 95 near the Georgia-Florida border.

Federal Magistrate Spence Grayson ordered the four held in custody pending their return to South Carolina, the state where the three men were serving prison sentences when they were sprung by helicopter on Thursday.

Mrs. Mattox, of Wellford, S.C., is accused of hijacking the helicopter at gunpoint and forcing its pilot to land at Perry Correctional Institution near Pelzer, S.C. The three inmates were airlifted out of the prison yard in a hail of gunfire that left a guard wounded, authorities said.

Authorities said Mrs. Mattox admitted doing it ″Because I loved Glenn Smith and they’re not giving him no good trial or nothing.″

Jesse Glenn Smith, 36, of Easley, S.C., is one of the three inmates who fled aboard the helicopter. He was serving a 40-year sentence for armed robbery, receiving stolen goods and assault and battery with intent to kill. James Rodney Leonard, 20, of Greenville, S.C., was convicted of murder, and William Ballew, 42, of Greenville, was serving 23 years and 3 months for armed robbery, contempt of court and attempted escape.

Smith told reporters after his arrest that the attempt at escape was worth it and he would do it again.

Inspector George Sterling of the U.S. marshal’s office in Savannah said the four probably would be transferred to South Carolina after Christmas.

Camden County Sheriff’s Sgt. Charlie Easterling and state police Trooper Joe Cunningham spotted the car about 3:30 a.m., and discovered it was stolen, said Sheriff W.E. Smith.

Reinforcements were called in, and the subjects of a nationwide manhunt were given a ″rude awakening″ by officers over a cruiser’s public address system, Cunningham said.

The outlaws stumbled barefoot from the car, blinking in the harsh spotlights of three state police cruisers, he said.

Officers confiscated a .32-caliber pistol and some knives, said Easterling. Federal officials charged Mrs. Mattox with violation of air piracy laws and the three men with conspiring to aid and abet her in air piracy. In addition, Mrs. Mattox was charged in South Carolina warrants with aiding and abetting an escape and assault and battery with intent to kill, and the inmates were charged in state warrants with escape and assault and battery with intent to kill.

FBI agents said the fugitives had been seen early Sunday in Mobile, Ala., when they bragged about the escape to a motorist whose car they stole after flagging him down on Interstate 10, vowing they would never be taken alive. The auto in which they had fled South Carolina apparently broke down, authorities said.

Asked if he was afraid when he learned the car contained four dangerous fugitives, Cunningham said: ″You can’t say that you ain’t scared, ’cause you are. But you can’t think about it. When I got home, that’s when it hit me.

″Thank God nobody was hurt and they’re off the street again,″ he added.

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