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Two Killed in Failed Florida Prison Escape

by David M. Reutter

A bungled escape attempt at Florida's Charlotte Correctional Institution (CCI) on June 11, 2003, resulted in the first death of a female guard. Darla Lathram, 38, began working at CCI in June 2002. She was beat with a sledgehammer and pronounced dead at the scene. Her death is the first of a Florida guard since 1987, when two men attempted to free a prisoner being transported from Glades Correctional Institution to an outside medical facility.

The escape attempt occurred around 10 p.m. as Lathram was supervising five prisoners working a construction squad remodeling a dormitory due for inspection the next day. Dormitories at CCI have been undergoing construction to accommodate the housing of prisoners placed on close management, Florida's version of long-term segregation.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) believes only three of the five prisoners were involved in the escape attempt. Involved in the escape attempt were: Dwight Eaglin, 27, Stephen Smith, 42,and Michael Jones, 46. All are serving life sentences. Officials believe that after these co-conspirators began beating Lathram, prisoners Charles Fuston, 36, and John Beaston, 37, tried to help her. In return, they were severely beaten by the co-conspirators.

Fuston and Beaston were taken to the local hospital in critical condition. Fuston died two days later after he was taken off life support. Beaston was released a week later and transported to an undisclosed prison. In an interesting twist, Beaston is serving 10 years for aiding an escape after he drove a semi-trailer cab through the fences at Everglades Correctional Institution in 1998. Eaglin was found between two perimeter fences that surround the prison, which are 12 foot high and covered with razor wire. He had a makeshift ladder to jump the final hurdle. Smith and Jones were found hiding in a prison dormitory room. All three were transferred to another prison.

The FDLE is still investigating, and no criminal charges have been filed to date. At the time of her death, Lathram was armed only with pepper spray. CCI officials contended it is normal for one guard to supervise up to 10 prisoners on a work squad. However, on June 19, 2003, Corrections Secretary James Crosby issued a press release that said, "Clearly, according to our policy there should have been 2 correctional officers supervising the work squad the night of Officer Lathram's death."

James Baiardi, President of the State Correctional Officers Chapter of the Police Benevolent Association was quick to jump on that wagon. He chastised the Legislature for failing to provide enough guards to supervise prisoners. Thirty-one guards were on duty to supervise over 1,000 prisoners the night of the escape attempt. Governor Jeb Bush responded by reminding the public and Legislature the state is in a budget crunch. After a week of lockdown status, CCI operations returned to normal.

Sources: Naples Daily News, St. Petersburg Times,, FDOC press releases, prisoner reports, Bonita Daily News

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