RALEIGH, N.C. – Two North Carolina prison employees were killed during an attempted inmate escape that also injured more than a dozen other state workers and inmates, authorities said Friday.
Prison guard Justin Smith, 35, and vocational worker Veronica Darden, 50, were killed Thursday during the breakout attempt from Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City, the state Department of Public Safety said in a news release.
Smith was a correctional officer at the prison's sewing plant, where Darden trained about 30 inmates making safety vests and other embroidered items, according to officials. State prison officials have not provided details of their deaths.
Three other employees remained hospitalized in critical condition, while seven other workers received hospital treatment and were released Thursday, prison officials said. Four inmates also were treated for injuries, officials said.
Authorities said Smith and Darden were killed after inmates started a fire at the prison sewing plant while trying to escape. But prisons spokesman Keith Acree said officials did several counts after the fire and all 725 inmates were accounted for.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper offered his condolences Thursday following the deaths.
"Those who work in our prisons do a difficult and demanding job that is critical to our safety," he said in a statement.
Smith had worked as a correctional officer for five years. Darden worked as a guard for one year before taking over her role with Correction Enterprises, the state prison system's work program for inmates. The program involves almost 2,300 of the state's nearly 38,000 inmates in an effort to them with marketable job skills in behind-bars businesses pressing license plates, washing clothes for customers including U.S. Veteran's Administration hospitals, growing and packaging vegetables, and even transcribing books into Braille for the blind.
The prison near the northeast North Carolina coast houses nearly 900 adult, male felons in both high-security and minimum-custody buildings. Minimum-security prisoners work outside the walls on road gangs for the county recycling department and performing other community labor.
The complex reported other incidents earlier this year. In April, an argument between two inmates at the prison led to one prisoner stabbing the other several times in the upper torso. Two months earlier, a guard was charged with trying to smuggle illegal drugs, phones and cigarettes behind prison walls.