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Nelson captured near Ash Flat

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Sharp County authorities captured a man March 28 who had escaped from the Arkansas Department of Correction in Camden just two days earlier.

Deputy Tim McComas and Sgt. Stan Haney arrested George A. Nelson Jr. at a home belonging to Gary Poston on Drybone Road near Ash Flat. They were searching the home for drugs and firearms, Sharp County Sheriff Dale Weaver said. The officers found Nelson inside a bedroom of the mobile home.

McComas recognized Nelson as an escapee and the two officers took him into custody. Nelson told deputies that a bag and its contents, almost two pounds of marijuana, belonged to him, Weaver said.

Nelson, a trustee at the Cummins Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction, escaped from custody when he walked off the grounds of the Arkansas State Police Training Academy in Camden and stole a 1990 Chevrolet SS 350 pickup that had been seized by the drug task force and used as an undercover vehicle for the prosecutor's office, authorities said.

After his arrest, Nelson told Sgt. Stan Witt of the Arkansas State Police that before he left the academy he broke into the state police investigator's office at the academy and stole drugs from the desk drawer that were being held as evidence, Weaver said.

Nelson, 38, had been serving 10 years on numerous drug convictions from 2000 and 2001, all from Fulton County, according to the Arkansas Department of Corrections Web site. He was sentenced in 2002 and would have been eligible for parole in 2008, said Dina Tyler, spokesman for the Department of Correction.

"He's in Cummins Administration Segregation right now," Tyler said March 30. "He won't be invited back to the academy to work."

Nelson, formerly of Hardy, was convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia with intent to use, a class C felony; two counts possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine, a class C felony; manufacture of a controlled substance, methamphetamine, a class Y felony; possession of paraphernalia, a class C felony; and criminal attempt to manufacture a controlled substance, methamphetamine, a class A felony, according to the Web site.

After Nelson escaped he traveled backroads and parked the truck on Strawberry Valley Road where he called Poston to pick him up, Weaver said. Poston transported Nelson, his two toolboxes and a large cardboard box to his home where the two stayed along with Lisa R. Bendele, he said.

Police had been warned that Nelson could be traveling to the area after his escape, but police hadn't see him until the search.

An unnamed person contacted the sheriff's office March 27 informing them that there were drugs and firearms at Poston's home, Weaver said. After learning Cherokee Village also had a misdemeanor warrant on Poston, McComas and Haney went to the home the following day.

When they arrived they met with Poston and Bendele who gave the officers consent to search, Weaver said. They found Nelson inside. Nelson spoke with Weaver and told him Poston did not know he was an escapee.

During the search of the home officers found a locked firearm safe that contained a glass pipe and three glass grenades, a makeup case that contained a small plastic bag containing ice methamphetamine, a .22 caliber pistol, pills that appeared to be some kind of steroids and other pills that have not been identified, Weaver said. Police also found two used syringes and a small plastic bag with white powder residue in the trash container in the bathroom, he said.

Poston, 53, and Bendele, 38, said they thought someone had set them up because Bendele had broken up with a man recently, but the two later changed their story after talking to Nelson inside the jail, Weaver said. They said the drugs belonged to Nelson, although Poston and Bendele both tested positive for methamphetamine use, he said.

Bendele of Agnos is charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, methamphetamine, a class Y felony; possession of a controlled substance, marijuana, with intent to deliver, a class C felony; simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms, a class Y felony; and possession of drug paraphernalia with intent to use, a class C felony. Poston faces the same charges and is also charged with hindering apprehension, a class C felony. Bond was set at $25,000 each.

Nelson will most likely be charged with theft and second-degree escape, Tyler said.

Even if the courts decide not to extend Nelson's prison term past 2008, the prison system can implement its own punishment, Tyler said.

"We have administrative sanctions," she said. "It could mean an additional year in prison for him. He could lose a year that he had built up for good behavior. We get a little cranky about things like escape."

Officer Jeremy Qualls, Ash Flat Police Chief Mike Zeiger and Weaver also assisted at the scene.

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