2nd escapee in custody
Following an exhausting 11-day manhunt, local law enforcement officers nabbed Lycoming County Prison pre-release center escapee Jarrett David Houser late Thursday night in a remote, wooded area of Lycoming Township.
Houser, 38, and fellow-inmate Christophy Victor Pettit, 24, bolted from the county prison facility on County Farm Road on the night of Sept. 29.
While Pettit was apprehended early Monday morning with a stolen ATV in the 2300 block of Northway Road in Loyalsock Township, Houser, of 2411 Lycoming Creek Road, managed to elude authorities until about 11 p.m. Thursday.
He was caught near an area at the end of McKee Road, a long dead-end township road off of Lycoming Creek Road, just north of Pleasant Hill Road.
In the same area, police recovered a stolen ATV and other items that Houser was believed to have used since his escape.
Police said Pettit, of 400 Glenwood Ave., and Houser are alleged to have committed numerous burglaries and thefts during their days on the run.
“The entire 11-day hunt (for Houser) is the greatest effort in a manhunt ever to take place in our county,” Sheriff R. Mark Lusk said at a press conference held Friday afternoon.
“At some points, we had as many as 100 personnel working it, from local, state, and federal levels,” Lusk, who directed the manhunt, said.
“This was a very large situation to deal with. The Loyalsock forest land is an estimated at 113,000 acres. There are 150,000 acres in the northern half of Lycoming County. Our county alone is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware. We were searching an area the size of a small state to find these guys,” he added.
“We literally had 1,000 eyes and ears out there following this situation and calling us. Sometimes the leads weren’t good, sometimes they were,” he said.
The search for Houser on Wednesday and Thursday focused up along Lycoming Creek between Route 973 East and Pleasant Valley Road.
A woman who lives along Old Route 15 posted on her Facebook page that officers with radios were converging around her property.
Sometime on Thursday afternoon, she spotted a man trying to cross the creek on an ATV. When that failed, the man started to drive up the creek bed, but then the ATV overturned on top of him, the woman reported. The man, not injured, then went on his way. Police later confirmed to the woman that the man she saw was in fact Houser.
While shying away from sharing specific strategies law enforcement officers used to capture Houser, Lusk did say that “a group of officers worked together for days to intensify their search in areas where he (the fugitive) may have been.”
Lusk went on to say that “the apprehension was made with some technical assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force.”
Houser was apprehended without incident and automatically committed to the Lycoming County Prison.
“Let the message be clear, when you commit crimes here, we’re going to do everything we can to find you, hunt you down and bring you back to justice,” Lusk said.
District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt said the two escapees “have been implicated in about three dozen burglaries, multiple thefts as well as many vehicle thefts in a search area that expanded over all of northern Lycoming County and parts of Bradford County.”
Linhardt commended all those who worked to bring about the capture of the two fugitives.
“All the law enforcement agencies involved demonstrated a degree of perseverance and dedication of which I am personally very proud and which I know our community is also very proud,” Linhardt said.
At the time of their escape, Houser and Pettit were both serving six-month prison sentences for failure to pay child support.
Before they fled and went on their crime spree, both men would have been out of prison in a matter of months, Linhardt said.
“They have compounded their situation considerably. They are now facing years in state prison,” the county’s chief prosecutor said of Houser and Pettit.
Both inmates have been arraigned before District Judge Gary A. Whiteman on a single misdemeanor count of escape and recommitted to the jail in lieu of $1 million each.