Inmate escapes from Columbia County jail

Deputies believe 42-year-old climbed through ductwork overnight

LAKE CITY, Fla. - A 42-year-old inmate from the Columbia County Detention Facility escaped Wednesday morning, and deputies are trying to find him both in that area and in his former neighborhood on Jacksonville's Westside.

Investigators said that at about 4 a.m., an inmate told detention deputies that Steve Roberts escaped during the night.

Deputies believe Roberts left sometime after lights out on Tuesday night by climbing through ductwork and forcing a vent cover off, allowing him access to the outside of the facility. Investigators said it is highly unlikely Roberts acted alone, and deputies are interviewing the other inmates.

Once alerted to the escape, deputies said they set up a perimeter and began checking the surrounding areas with sheriff's K-9 units and Department of Corrections K-9 units. A statewide be-on-the-lookout alert has been issued.

Deputies said Roberts had lived off Normandy Boulevard before his arrest. Jacksonville Sheriff's Office deputies that searched that neighborhood with a K9 team Wednesday morning said they was no sign of him.

"If he stays in Jacksonville, he's stupid... because he's going to get caught," said Ariel Gayton, who lives in the area.

Roberts has a long criminal history, having 15 arrests on charges ranging from weapons possession and resisting arrest to auto theft and burglary.

Residents say they will stay vigilant until Roberts is caught.

"I'm a little nervous," said Richard Jackson. "I just had my newborn baby and she's inside right now as we speak, so I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for this guy."

Roberts is a white man, 5 feet 9 inches tall and 180 pounds, with blue eyes and short brown hair.

Anyone who sees Roberts is asked to call the Columbia County Sheriff's Office at 386-719-2005 or 911.

Deputies said this is the only escape from this facility in the last five years. In the wake of this incident, Sheriff Mark Hunter has ordered a complete review of jail procedures and an inspection of the detention facility.

Hunter says other inmates are being investigated because this escape was so elaborate he doesn't believe he could have pulled it off by himself.

"Whenever you have an incident like this take place, certainly you want to review your policies and procedures and make sure what we were doing," Hunter said.

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