Fire races through South Georgia jail -, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Fire races through South Georgia jail

 March 22, 2004

Fitzgerald-- Sunday night, all of the inmates at the Ben Hill County jail had to be transferred to various other South Georgia jails. Jailers and deputies are still trying to clean up the major smoke and heat damage caused by the fire. More than 100 inmates in the Ben Hill County jail had to be evacuated.

The walls inside the Ben Hill County jail used to be light gray, now they are charcoal black, the light fixtures are melted, and a thck layer of soot is covering almost every surface. "We got one man that's in the hospital. We took eight to the hospital all of them were released, except for the one, but he's going to be okay too," says Sheriff Thurman Ellis.

Ellis says inmate Derrick Young was isolated to this cell for being uncooperative with jailers, but when he got there he figured out another way to cause a disruption. "When the guy got in there he had taken toilet paper and rolled it up, set it fire and put it underneath the door."

Ellis says Young held the burning paper there until it ignited a stack of empty boxes and trash just outside his cell door. The flames were contained to the one hallway, but heavy smoke forced jailers to evacuate all 101 inmates. "They were able to get the inmates out, and change a very dangerous situation and keep it from escalating into a major tragedy."

All 18 trustees volunteered to help deputies and jailers clean up the mess that Ellis says now all inmates will pay for. "I hate to take something away from them when they behave themselves."

Of course this will change everything. Ben Hill, one of the few jails left in the state that allowed inmates to light up, is going smoke-free. Ellis says he expects Davis to be charged with arson and aggravated assault for endangering all the inmates.

He was orginally sentenced to nine months for minor traffic charges and crimal trespass, Ellis says he probably would have gotten out in half that time.

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