2 NC prison employees dead after inmates’ attempted escape

Correction Enterprises Manager Veronica Darden, 50, and Correctional Officer Justin Smith, 35. (DPS)

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WAVY/WNCN) — Two prison employees are dead and several were injured during an attempted escape Thursday afternoon at Pasquotank Correctional Institution, officials said.

Correction Enterprises Manager Veronica Darden, 50, and Correctional Officer Justin Smith, 35. (DPS)

Around 3 p.m., inmates started a fire in the prison’s Correction Enterprises Specialty Sewing Plant, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety said. At that point several inmates attempted to escape.

None were successful, officials said.

The fire was extinguished and the prison was placed on lockdown.

The Department identified the two employees who died as Correctional Officer Justin Smith, 35, and Correction Enterprises Manager Veronica Darden, 50.

Smith provided security in the sewing plant and had worked as a correctional officer since 2012.

Darden supervised inmates in the plant and worked with Correction Enterprises since 2007, previously working as a correctional officer.

Officials said three employees remained early Friday morning in critical condition at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.

Seven employees were treated and released from a hospital in Elizabeth City.

Four inmates were also treated for injuries, but officials did not specify the extent of those injuries.

Public Safety Secretary Erik A. Hooks released a statement Thursday that said in part “Our deepest sympathies go out to the families and co-workers of the employees who lost their lives in service to the State.”

Gov. Roy Cooper’s office released a statement on Thursday’s incident that read:

Those who work in our prisons do a difficult and demanding job that is critical to our safety. We’re grateful to these fallen prison employees for their service, and we offer our condolences to their families, friends, coworkers and community on this tragic loss.”

About 30 inmates work for Correction Enterprises producing embroidered logo items, safety vests and other sewn items at the sewing plant, DPS said.

Stanley Drewery, president of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, released a statement Friday morning regarding the incident:

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Justin Smith and Veronica Darden, as well as the many correctional officers and staff members who were injured in this horrific tragedy.

But those thoughts and prayers must also be followed up with action. Correctional officers’ safety issues have been ignored despite an assault every 8 hours and we pray someone in power will finally care enough to do something.

Every day thousands of brave men and women go to work in our prisons to protect us all from dangerous criminals. They don’t deal with suspects. They deal with convicted criminals so the rest of us don’t have to. It’s past time for the state to give these heroes the resources, training and manpower to ensure that they return home safely.”

The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed a helicopter crew from Elizabeth City assisted with the response to the incident.

Pasquotank Correctional Institution houses 725 male inmates. It serves as a medium and minimum security facility.

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