Authorities: Morgan jail escapee used city van while on run
Mar. 22—An escapee from the Morgan County Jail took a van from the city's fenced Central Parkway maintenance compound this month and used it to break through the gate before driving it to Hartselle for the next leg of his journey to Tennessee, according to additional information revealed in a criminal mischief charge filed Monday.
Before catching a ride to Huntland, Tennessee, where he was captured, however, he apparently returned the van and the key he had found in it, according to a city official.
Jeremy Taylor, 49, of Hartselle, was in jail on charges of first-degree rape, burglary and sodomy and a conviction for breaking into a vehicle when he allegedly broke through a first-floor window at the Morgan County Jail in downtown Decatur around midnight on March 4. Jail staff didn't realize he was missing until about 11 hours later, and he ultimately was captured in Franklin County, Tennessee, at about 1 a.m. March 6.
Taylor already faced a second-degree escape charge for the attempt, and Decatur police added a first-degree criminal mischief charge this week for damage he allegedly did to the city van and the maintenance compound gate.
Taylor's sister, Jodie Ann Kilpatric, 51, of Hartselle, was charged March 7 with first-degree facilitating an escape and was released the same day on $2,500 bond.
According to an affidavit by sheriff's Investigator Erica Delgado, Kilpatric said that at 1:30 a.m. or 2 a.m. on March 5 — hours before jail staff realized Taylor was missing — she was at her Hartselle residence "when she saw headlights in her driveway. Jodie advised she opened her front door and saw Jeremy Taylor on her front porch wearing multicolored shorts and a maroon-colored hoodie and was possibly carrying a small black bag. Jodie advised that the vehicle that dropped Taylor off was a white van but did not know who was driving the van."
The most direct route south from the downtown jail to the city's maintenance compound is via the railroad tracks, about a 1.8-mile walk. The tracks run from immediately west of the jail's perimeter fence to immediately east of the city's maintenance and sanitation facility at 1802 Central Parkway S.W.
According to a Decatur police affidavit filed Monday by Detective Brian Prosser, Taylor took a white 2004 Econoline E150 van from the city facility early on March 5.
"A short time later the van was returned, but the van was used to force open the gates of the fenced compound," Prosser wrote. "The damages to the fence and the van, both owned by the city of Decatur, were well in excess of $2,500. An eyewitness was obtained that reported Jeremy Taylor was the person who caused the damages to the gate, while using the van."
Sheriff's spokesman Mike Swafford on Tuesday said his understanding is that Taylor, alone at the time, drove the van to his sister's house in Hartselle, and they then returned it to the city lot before she took him to Huntland, Tennessee. Swafford referred any additional questions to the Police Department, which provided no information beyond that in Prosser's affidavit. — Key in van
Daniel Boutwell is Decatur's director of Environmental Services, which includes the maintenance compound where the van was taken. He said a crew worked March 4, a Saturday, cleaning up citywide storm debris and left at about 1:30 or 2 p.m. When they left, the gate was padlocked and in good repair and the van was parked near the maintenance shop.
"The key was left in (the van). They were working on it," Boutwell said. "It was brought in for maintenance from Youth Services, which is why it was parked over in front of the maintenance shop."
Two Environmental Services employees reported to the Central Parkway facility on March 6, a Monday, at about 4:30 a.m. and found the gate open and damaged, although it appeared the damage was from a vehicle entering the facility rather than leaving it.
"When it started getting daylight, that's when we noticed the van was moved. (Whoever took it) brought it back," Boutwell said. "When they brought it back they parked it really nicely in the parking spot right behind the building. They left the key back in there. I was like, 'Why would you bring it back?' I don't understand."
The maintenance compound and adjoining sanitation area are fenced, but Boutwell said that storms shortly before the escape had blown down a portion of the fence facing Central Parkway.
"He was just able to walk through. We've got that repaired now," Boutwell said.
Boutwell said keys are no longer left inside vehicles that are being repaired.
According to Delgado's affidavit, upon arriving at her house Taylor told Kilpatric that "he needed help and needed her to drive him to Huntland, Tennessee," where a distant cousin owns property.
Kilpatric told Delgado that she and Taylor then borrowed a 2011 blue Ford Fusion from Kilpatric's daughter and drove to Huntland. No mention is made in the affidavit of returning the city van to the maintenance compound.
"Jodie and Taylor made contact with (the cousin), who agreed that he could stay there and that he would be safe. Jodie advised that she gave Taylor $160 in cash," Delgado wrote.
It was here, at least 24 hours after his escape, that Taylor was captured by Franklin County, Tennessee, deputies while camping in a tent, according to Sgt. Samuel Davidson of the Franklin County Sheriff's Office.
The escape-related charges against Taylor and Kilpatric are both Class C felonies punishable by up to 10 years in prison, as is the first-degree criminal mischief charge.
Taylor was on probation after pleading guilty to two counts of breaking and entering a vehicle and one of third-degree burglary when, in October 2020, he allegedly broke into a 62-year-old woman's house in Hartselle and raped her. His probation was revoked after his arrest and he was returned to prison to serve the remainder of an eight-year sentence. He was transported to Morgan County Jail from Bibb Correctional Facility in September 2021 so that he would be available for proceedings on the rape charge and the related burglary and sodomy charges.
Morgan County Circuit Judge Jennifer Howell on Monday scheduled Taylor's jury trial on the rape, burglary and sodomy charges for Aug. 14.
— email@example.com or 256-340-2435. Twitter @DD_Fleischauer.