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Jim Beam aided capture of escapee

By Will Davis Monroe County Reporter A Delta mechanic from Barnesville helped capture escaped prison inmate James Kelly on Friday afternoon, but the hero said he had a lot of help from Jim Beam. Keith Hightower, 50, and friends Erick Rodriguez, 41, of Jenkinsburg and Dan Owen, 47, of Marietta had gathered for a weekend campout at their Tobesofkee Creek Hunting Club just south of Forsyth off Hwy. 42 on Friday night when they saw what they thought was a homeless man in the camp. When the trespasser saw the men coming at around 5 p.m., the man tried to run but fell down. The campers followed and later found the shirtless man sitting at the low end of the camp property. Hightower said he squatted down near him and asked him where he was headed. The man, who was wearing football cleats, camouflage pants and no shirt, said he was going to Gainesville. While they were talking, Hightower noticed a bottle of Jim Beam that the stranger had apparently found at the camp and consumed, as well as a pack of hotdogs he had gotten out of a freezer. Hightower asked him if he was on drugs but the man said no. Hightower invited him to have a beer and cigarette with the guys, and he agreed. Hightower, who had not heard that an inmate had escaped from Forsyth’s Burruss prison on Wednesday, said he thought they had a transient on their hands and instructed one of his buddies to call the sheriff’s office and wait at the road for the deputy. As he drank his beer and smoked his cigarette, the stranger, who had earlier identified himself as Ken, now admitted his real name was James D. Kelly. He confessed that he had escaped from prison. Hightower asked Kelly where his jumpsuit was and Kelly said his prison uniform was in some nearby woods. Hightower told him that running is a hard life, and that he was lucky he stumbled onto a hunting camp. If he had tried to break into a home, he could’ve been shot, said Hightower. Soon Monroe County sheriff’s deputy Caleb Dunn arrived and when Hightower introduced him to James D. Kelly, Dunn immediately went for his handcuffs to make an arrest. Kelly, who had walked off of a tractor detail at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center two days earlier, was apprehended without incident. Hightower said Burruss’ assistant warden also came to the scene and berated Kelly for escaping, saying they had just gotten paperwork that he would’ve been out in November. Now, it would be at least five more years. Hightower said he thinks Kelly snapped after learning that his ex-wife was getting remarried. A U.S. marshal at the scene said in 17 years he’d never had an escape conclude like that, and some authorities joked that they should hire Hightower as a hostage negotiator. Asked if he felt like a hero, Hightower demurred. ’It was us and Jim Beam,’ joked Hightower. ‘He was so messed up, an 8-year-old could’ve whipped him.’ Sheriff’s Inv. Lawson Bittick said they’re trying to find the owner of the size 13 men’s football cleats that Kelly stole and wore. If they’re yours, please call the sheriff’s office at 994-7048. They have already found the owner of the camo pants he had stolen.

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