EGG HARBOR CITY — Four inmates broke out of the Harborfields Juvenile Justice Facility early Wednesday, stole a guard’s car and ditched it ahead of a pursuing police cruiser.

Several hours later, three of them, all juveniles, were captured in Bridgeton, 35 miles west in Cumberland County.

A fourth suspect, Michael Huggins, 18, who was charged in an October 2016 slaying in Bridgeton, remained at large and the subject of a search in the Cumberland County city.

Acting Atlantic County Sheriff Michael Petuskey, who announced the arrests of the other escapees about 10 a.m. Wednesday, said the details of the escape were being investigated.

“They did get a pretty good distance,” Petuskey said during a media briefing, one of several he gave throughout the morning.

Schools in towns around the jail canceled classes Wednesday morning as a precaution.

Egg Harbor City Mayor Lisa Jiampetti called the escape of half of Harborfields’ detainees — only eight were being held at the facility at the time — “outrageous, absolutely outrageous.”

“There are many people in Egg Harbor City who would say that we would prefer the juvenile detention center to be moved where the other facilities are in Mays Landing,” Jiampetti said.

Once the place where most juvenile offenders were held, Harborfields now houses fewer juveniles awaiting court hearings — it has beds for 27, 19 boys and eight girls, according to the Atlantic County website.

Now, the facility holds only more serious cases from around South Jersey as part of a decades-long approach to juvenile justice reform.

Huggins was charged with murder in the Oct. 7, 2016, killing of Davonte Lee in Bridgeton and should be considered dangerous, Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said Wednesday.

If anyone sees Huggins, they should call 911 and not approach him, the prosecutor said.

The juveniles who have been caught were identified as Stephine Woodley, Raymir Lampkin and Donovan Nickerson. Their ages, hometowns and alleged crimes were not released.

Before their capture, authorities did say the escapees were 18, 17 and two 16-year-olds.

The distance between the detention facility and where the car was abandoned was less than six blocks.

Surveillance video showed the car racing on Buerger Street and sideswiping a Jeep, sending sparks flying and showering the street in pieces of molding. Less than a block farther, the car’s occupants jumped out of the car and ran. A police cruiser raced up the same street.

Joseph Luna, 29, the Jeep’s owner, saw the car race by and thought they were joyriding. He didn’t realized they’d hit his car, wrenching the left rear wheel nearly 90 degrees.

Or that they were escapees. While bothered by the damage, he was grateful later he didn’t approach the vehicle.

“I was a bit nervous. I have two kids. One’s a baby,” Luna said. “If they just came back, to backtrack and get away from the cops or try to get into my house — it’s scary.”

Michael Kinsing, a tenant at the three-unit complex near St. Louis Avenue and Buerger where the car came to rest, said he awoke to emergency lights and a large number of police in his normally quiet neighborhood.

“Not my favorite way to wake up,” said Kinsing, who added he was glad for the speedy response.

Many schools in the area closed due to the escape.

All schools in the Egg Harbor City School District, Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District, Hamilton Township School District, Mullica Township School District and St. Vincent de Paul Parish closed Wednesday as a precaution. Galloway Township Public Schools also closed.

Jiampetti, who used an alert system to call residents about 3:30 a.m. to warn them of the escape, said there was another incident when she was mayor-elect in 2012 — four inmates escaped and were caught on Buffalo Avenue three hours later.

She thanked other law-enforcement agencies for helping and said the Egg Harbor City Police Department is stretched thin and understaffed and could not do a big job like this alone.

The State Police Fugitive Task Force directed the search Wednesday near South Woods State Prison and Pamphylia Avenue in Bridgeton.

Petuskey said State Police and Bridgeton police were involved in the capture of the three suspects.

The guard whose car was stolen was taken to a hospital. No information was available on his condition Wednesday evening.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

PLEASE BE ADVISED: Soon we will no longer integrate with Facebook for story comments. The commenting option is not going away, however, readers will need to register for a FREE site account to continue sharing their thoughts and feedback on stories. If you already have an account (i.e. current subscribers, posting in obituary guestbooks, for submitting community events), you may use that login, otherwise, you will be prompted to create a new account.

Load comments