Escapee sends schools into lockdown

Two Knox County schools were under lockdown approximately one hour after a jail inmate escaped work release.

On September 18 at approximately 9 a.m., Elmer Burnette, 52, of Gray, ran away from work release while working on a road clearing crew on U.S. 25E near the front of Knox Central High School. Burnette was booked in the Knox County Detention Center on August 30, 2017 for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol/drugs/etc. (first offense), among other charges.

Authorities were quick to reassure Burnette was not considered dangerous at the time he escaped; however, Knox County Public Schools took student safety into consideration and placed two schools under lockdown.

“Two of our schools, Knox Central and Central Elementary, were under lockdown as a precautionary measure. Student safety is our top priority and while we had no reason to believe the individual had any connection to the schools, we wanted to make sure our buildings were secure in case he made his way onto a campus,” said Frank Shelton with KCPS District Communications and System Governance.

Burnette was captured at 10:23 a.m. by Knox County Detention Center deputies John Johnson and Steve Rice in the Boone Height area. Burnette was returned to the Knox County Detention Center. Burnette was charged with second-degree escape. 

There was backlash from the community surrounding this latest work release escapee, though.

Barbourville resident Dylan Mills took to Facebook to question, “And yet we continue to let this happen?”

“If you’re going to work them, it’s the chance you have to take,” said Jailer Mary Hammons. “I’d rather work them.”

Hammons stated that allowing inmates to go out for work release has many benefits, including reduced sentence time for the inmate and a cleaner, maintained community for the public.

“They weed eat, pick up trash the public throws out and fix potholes on our highways. It’s free labor,” continued Hammons.

Inmates on work release are not a danger to public; only those with misdemeanor charges are eligible for work release, according to Hammons.

“Our guards were the ones who captured [Burnette]. Everyone who has run off from work release is back in custody. It’s not like they are out in the community,” concluded Hammons.