Mineral Wells Index
By CLINT FOSTER
PALO PINTO – After a brief walkabout Wednesday, Gary Michael Wooten, 32, is back behind bars at the Palo Pinto County Jail.
According to Palo Pinto County Chief Deputy Mike Sudderth, Wooten – who was in jail on a Driving While Intoxicated charge and was in his first day as a courthouse trustee – simply walked away from his post while mowing the Palo Pinto County Courthouse lawn, Wednesday morning.
The Palo Pinto County Sheriff's Office got plenty of help searching for Wooten, including a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter and multiple K-9 units. But ultimately, Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer said it was a confidential informant who tipped sheriff's deputies off, allowing them to arrest Wooten without incident in Mineral Wells at around 5:30 p.m., Wednesday.
Attempting to escape imprisonment adds a third-degree felony to Wooten's offenses to go long with his Class B misdemeanor DWI charge. Mercer said Wooten's decision to run was a puzzling one.
"It's just goofy," he told the Index. "You never know. It's a risk and reward kind of system. You get the reward from using the inmate's labor, but there's always a risk of this sort of thing happening. This guy seemed to be a low-risk inmate. But they're not rocket scientists if they end up in jail."
Mercer did not cast blame on any of Wooten's supervisors for allowing him to walk away in the first place, saying these things can happen. But Mercer added he intends to have a talk with his courthouse staff after Wooten's wandering.
"I'm going to have a chat with the courthouse guys to make sure they spend a little more time watching (trustees)," he said. "It's always a risk to have them out like that. Generally they're very well supervised. But you can turn your head and they'll be gone. It's nobody's fault.
"I'm sure he got on one side of the courthouse where the man watching him couldn't see him and off he went. But I'm not blaming anybody at all. It's just one of those things that can happen. Fortunately we got him back quickly."
Mercer said Wooten's additional punishment will be up to District Attorney Mike Burns' discretion. However, a felony-three charge can mean up to 15 years confinement.
"We'll just file the charges and see what happens," Mercer said. "(Wooten) definitely built himself a whole lot bigger problem."