Prison Escapee Builds and Loses a New Life
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) _ He sent flowers to the woman he planned to marry and befriended the customers at the fitness center where he worked.
But the life Steve Grant built in Texas came apart this week, when law enforcement officials tracked down Grant - actually Ronald Stephen Bridgeforth - a year after he escaped from an Oregon prison camp.
Bridgeforth, 36, was arrested Wednesday at his apartment after authorities tracked him down through a traffic ticket he never paid in Arlington. He was in Tarrant County Jail on Friday awaiting extradition to Oregon.
″He’d been down here long enough he probably thought he was free and clear,″ said Mike Sheehan, an Arlington police detective.
Friends and associates said they did not pry into the past of the man they knew as Grant and were surprised by his arrest.
″The man did his job,″ said Jack Ford, director of the Courtside Fitness Center, where Bridgeforth worked.
His fiance, a co-worker whom he wooed with flowers, was visibly shaken after learning of his true identity, center employees said. Said Ford, ″I told her to try and get away for awhile.″
Bridgeforth escaped almost a year ago from a coastal Oregon prison camp, where he was serving a five-year prison sentence for illegally carrying a weapon. In 1980, he was paroled after serving five years in the Utah state prison in Salt Lake City for aggravated robbery.
But his past was not a part of his life in Texas. Fitness center workers said he sometimes mentioned a childhood in Utah, where he was reared in a strict Mormon family.
He said little else.
″When we hire someone, we don’t go into a background search,″ said Darla Cathy, the center’s assistant manager. ″If they do a good job, that’s all we want. And he was one of our best employees.
Grant excelled at attracting new clients to the center and advanced to a managerial position four months after taking the job, Ford said. He never complained and worked hard.
He was often entrusted with large amounts of cash, Ford said, and the trust was never betrayed.
Meanwhile, Oregon authorities were searching for the escapee and enlisted the Texas Department of Public Safety to help when they heard he might be in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. They provided local authorities with an alias Bridgeforth had used before - Steve Grant - and told them he might be working in a health club - as he had in Oregon.
An unpaid $37.50 traffic ticket under the name Steve Grant for driving without a license was Bridgeforth’s eventual undoing. He could not pay the fine because he could not produce a license under that name.
When the ticket turned up in Arlington police records, it showed Bridgeforth might be in town.
Bridgeforth made no attempt to flee when approached by officers. At first, he appeared surprised, Sheehan said. Later he confirmed his identity, and said he had driven to Texas after hearing about the area’s booming economy.
Despite the past, those who know Grant - a.k.a. Bridgeforth - said their faith in him remains unshaken.
″He can start back tomorrow,″ Ford said.