Iberville jail escapee leads chase to Donaldsonville

Deidre Cruse

An Iberville Parish Jail inmate Sunday night (May 1) overpowered a guard, escaped through an unlocked door, carjacked a pick-up truck from the jail parking lot and led deputies on a chase that ended in a wreck with Iberville Parish Sheriff's deputies near Donaldsonville, according to Chief of Operations Aubrey St. Angelo.

“There's no doubt it was human error,” Sheriff Brent Allain, said of the reason for the escape. “It will be corrected, I will assure you.”

The suspect, Francois Charles, 20, of Lafayette was arrested Saturday after he allegedly tried to steal a car after a wreck on I-10 between Ramah and Whiskey Bay, St. Angelo alleged. He said deputies initially arrested Charles at the scene on charges of attempted carjacking and reckless operation, and later, after a search of his vehicle, on charges of possession of marijuana, drug paraphernalia and a Schedule II narcotic.

“He was irate when he was taken into custody...so the booking process was delayed,” St. Angelo said.

Jailers made second attempt to book Charles at feeding time the next day, around 4 p.m. Sunday.

“He became irate and attempted to overtake a female guard and was able to do so and fled from the jail,” St. Angelo alleged. “He came across an Iberville Parish citizen in the parking lot, overtook that individual and took possession of that vehicle, a pick-up truck.”

As Charles fled the parking lot, the chief of operations further alleged, he ran at a deputy in the parking lot. The deputy, fearing for his safety, fired two shots at the truck, St. Angelo said; one bullet went through the front windshield of the truck and out the back windshield, while the other was a miss.

Charles then led deputies on a high speed chase through residential areas of Plaquemine, disregarding traffic controls and deputies' attempts to stop him, and drove south, the official said.

“Throughout the pursuit, he continued to drive in a reckless manner in total disregard for human safety and the motoring public,” St. Angelo said.

Maj. Johnny Blanchard, chief of the sheriff's uniform patrol, said he got the call about the chase and was able to joint it near the White Castle Ferry.

“I tried to slow him down...I got in front of him and tried to do a rolling stop on him, so he couldn't speed anymore,” Blanchard said, but Charles went into a ditch and got in front of him again.

Called in to help, Ascension Parish authorities put spike strips down on La. 405, but effort failed to stop the suspect, the major said.

Charles then drove back onto La. 1, where one of the Iberville patrol units passed him on one side and Blanchard passed him on the other, and almost forced him to a stop.

“He tried to go around me and hit the front end of one of our units,” Blanchard said.

Finally, Blanchard said he forced both Charles's vehicle and his own pick-up truck into a ditch. He said Charles attempted to run, but was caught by several deputies in the pursuit, handcuffed, booked into the Ascension Parish Jail as a fugitive and then returned to the Iberville jail.

By the end of the chase, Blanchard's pick-up truck and two patrol cars were damaged, the major said.

One deputy suffered a broken hand and drove himself to Baton Rouge General Medical Center for treatment, St. Angelo said.

He said the report on the incident was incomplete, so additional charges had not been filed against him by Monday. The charges are likely to include simple escape and carjacking.

Charles is being held in an isolation cell, St. Angelo said.

Meanwhile, Allain and his staff are looking for ways to secure the jail.

“There is no doubt it was human error,” the sheriff said. “A back gate of the jail, for whatever reason, was not secured. I certainly have problems with that.”

St. Angelo said he is working with the administration and the parish government to add safety devices at the jail, such as automatically locking doors and alarm systems to alert jailers if a gate is left open.

There was a similar jail break in July when another inmate overpowered guards and left the compound on Bayou Road, he chief of operations confirmed.