A Department of Corrections officer was stabbed to death by an inmate Sunday night at a state prison near Lake City.
Ken Tucker, secretary of the Department of Corrections, told Channel 4 that Sgt. Ruben Thomas was attacked by an inmate just before 10 p.m. Sunday at the Columbia Correctional Institution annex.
Tucker said Thomas, 24, was in one of the wings of a dorm checking on an inmate when a control room officer saw inmate Richard Franklin chase and then stab Thomas several times in the neck with a handmade weapon.
"There had been a call through the intercom system for an inmate that said he wanted to see an officer," Tucker said. "Rather than to call for an officer to go down there, Sgt. Thomas responded to that himself."
When he realized he was in danger, investigators believe Thomas tried to get away, but it was too late.
Thomas was taken to Shands Lake Shore Hospital in Lake City, where he died.
"There will be lots of support for his family," Tucker said. "Chaplains were brought in to help the staff work through this. They lost more than a co-worker, they lost a friend."
Tucker said that a second officer, William Brewer, was trying to lock down inmates when Franklin swung something heavy in a sock, striking Brewer in the eye. Brewer was also taken to a hospital, where he was treated and released.
Franklin, 37, was serving a life sentence on several charges, including the 2004 murder of a Bethune-Cookman College student in Daytona Beach, battery on a law enforcement officer and escape. Records show Franklin has been disciplined more than 50 times in prison for disobedience, threats and lying, among other things.
Tucker said Franklin will be transferred to a maximum security prison, and the killing will be investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Thomas, a six-year veteran, had a young daughter and was engaged to be married. His fiancee is pregnant with their second child.
"Ruben was a hard-working boy. He did what he had to do to pay the bills," said Debbie Dees, a close family friend. "He was the first to forgive anybody for what they did. He was such a good Christian person. He went into to work every day with the thought that, 'God forgives you, and so do I.' And I don't think that there was a person that could say a bad word about Ruben."
Dees said she watched Thomas grow up and become a great man.
"I've known him since he was just a baby, and his mom and dad raised him with the best moral values that anybody could ever have. He was just a good southern gentleman," she said. "He loved to hunt, he loved to fish, and he loved his family, first and foremost, all his family. His mom and his daddy and his grandparents. Most especially, his baby girl."
The killing brings to light the dangers correctional officers face.
"A lot of people don't realize how dangerous their jobs are," Tucker said. "Every day they're running behind fences, dealing with inmates such as inmate Franklin, who are in there for murder and robbery."
"I am saddened to learn of the tragic death of Sgt. Ruben Thomas last night at the Columbia Correctional Institute annex," Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement. "My deepest condolences go to his family and fellow correctional officers in Columbia County and across Florida. A second officer, William Brewer, was also assaulted during the attack, and I pray for his quick recovery."
"It is always troubling when members of our law enforcement community lose their lives in the line of duty. These brave men and women dedicate themselves each day to ensure Florida is a safe place to live. We all need to remember the sacrifices and heroic efforts of our officers."
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Sgt. Thomas' family and friends," added Ken Wood, acting president of Teamsters Local 2011. "We only hope this tragedy draws attention to the serious understaffing problems that plague FDOC."
The last Florida correctional officer killed by an inmate was Donna Fitzgerald, who died after being attacked June 25, 2008, at Tomoka Correctional Institution.