Hobbs escapes; local lawmen alerted

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 1, 2003

MORGANTON – Local law enforcement officials have been placed on alert following the Saturday night escape of Bennie &uot;BJ&uot; Hobbs Jr., convicted in 1999 for a double murder in Northampton County.

Hobbs, sentenced to a maximum of 58 years, pulled off the escape with another inmate from the Western Youth Institution (WYI), located seven miles south of Morganton in Burke County. Morganton is situated on I-40 between Hickory and Asheville.

According to Bob Merrill, Assistant Superintendent at WYI, Hobbs was joined by inmate Kentay Lamarr Lee of Mecklenburg County. Merrill said the pair was assigned to a work detail, cleaning the second floor of the 16-story high-rise prison at about 9 p.m. on Saturday when they successfully carried out their escape plan.

&uot;They entered a mechanical room there on the second floor, one with an air vent that vented directly to the outside of the building,&uot; said Merrill. &uot;The vent contained aluminum louvers and was covered by metal wire. They were able to pull away a section of the wire and then kicked the louvers, thus opening up a way to gain access to the outside of the building.&uot;

Merrill confirmed that had it not been for the addition of the chapel building, the only means of escape at this point would have been a two-story leap to the ground.

&uot;The chapel building is there now and once they made their way through the vent, they were on the roof of the chapel,&uot; he stated. &uot;They made their way down to the end of the chapel roof, where it connects with the main building, and from there were able to make it to the ground.&uot;

However, the escape attempt still had one major obstacle – a razor wire fence surrounding the prison compound.

&uot;They ran a short distance to that fence, scaled it and escaped,&uot; noted Merrill.

Lee’s flight to freedom was short-lived as he was captured a half-hour later approximately one-half mile from the prison. Lee, 19, is serving a sentence for first degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon.

Merrill said it was apparent that Hobbs and Lee split up after they escaped. He also said he is relatively sure that Hobbs stole a pick-up truck from a business located near the prison.

&uot;Apparently, he only drove it for about three miles,&uot; stated Merrill. &uot;It was found abandoned in the parking lot of an old textile plant. Several entry points to that plant were unlocked and the building was thoroughly searched, but we found no sign of Hobbs.&uot;

Merrill added that the bloodhounds used in the search picked-up several trails, but, as he stated on Monday afternoon, &uot;we still don’t have Hobbs back in custody.&uot;

While Burke County law enforcement and prison officials are busy searching, Merrill said that he contacted lawmen in both Hobbs’ native Northampton County as well as Hertford County, where it is reported that his mother now lives.

&uot;We’re hoping he hasn’t been able to get out of Burke County, but just in case, we’ve notified the sheriff departments there in your part of the state,&uot; said Merrill.

Hobbs is described as a 20-year-old white male, 5′-9&uot; tall and weighing 149 pounds. He has black hair and brown eyes.

With the exception of two infractions that occurred in 2000, Merrill noted that Hobbs has basically stayed out of trouble since his incarceration at WYI in November of 1999.

&uot;He has been assigned to the work detail in the canteen and that’s normally reserved for those inmates who are doing well,&uot; Merrill stated.

Hobbs, who celebrated his 20th birthday last month, was 15-years-old when he took a 12-guage shotgun and shot and killed his uncle, Francis Lee Hobbs, age 40, and his uncle’s girlfriend, Marsha Howell Bayse, 44, while they slept in the bedroom of their home in the George community. That double homicide occurred May 13, 1999.

Three days later, a family member discovered the bodies of F. Hobbs and Bayse. At that time, a note was found in the doorway of the home, one stating that F. Hobbs, Bayse and BJ Hobbs had left for a two-week trip to Nags Head.

According to the testimony given at the trial in November of 1999, it was determined that Hobbs, following the murder, took nearly $700 from the house and then stole his uncle’s truck in order to make his way to Alexander City, Alabama, where several of his family members resided. After authorities in Alabama had been apprised of the situation in North Carolina, those family members turned Hobbs in.

Back in Northampton County, Hobbs faced two counts of first degree murder, along with other charges. In a plea arrangement, the charges were reduced to second degree murder. He was sentenced to serve 196 to 245 months on each of the murder charges plus an additional 80 to 105 months for armed robbery.

Anyone seeing an individual matching Hobbs’ description or has knowledge of his whereabouts is urged to immediately contact the nearest law enforcement agency.