La. fugitives suspected in fatal carjacking caught

March 14, 2011 6:51:16 PM PDT
A manhunt across four Southern states for two fugitives who escaped a Louisiana prison ended Monday with their capture in Memphis to face charges, including the carjacking and killing of a businessman from Ohio.

After 10 days on the run, the pair made what police called a desperate move: stealing a pickup truck from a county park employee in Jackson, Tenn., about 85 miles northeast of Memphis, and asking him how to get to Interstate 40.

Darian "Drake" Pierce, 33, and Ricky Wedgeworth, 36, were arrested Monday after crashing their getaway vehicle near a busy southeast Memphis intersection and running away. They had been spotted by police in Olive Branch, Miss., and were pursued into the Memphis area.

One of the fugitives and a Memphis police officer suffered minor injuries, Memphis police spokeswoman Karen Rudolph said. She did not say which of the fugitives was hurt.

The men were expected at least temporarily in Shelby County on a federal escape warrant. It's not yet clear where they will be prosecuted. It was not immediately known if they have attorneys.

The arrests end a nervous ordeal for citizens of Jackson, who were asked to be vigilant and cautious while more than 100 investigators from Tennessee law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI scoured the area for several days looking for the men.

Police believed the men chose Jackson to hide out after crisscrossing several states since they escaped from Baton Rouge, La., police barracks on March 4 in a state van. Wedgeworth was serving time for armed robbery and Pierce for attempted second-degree murder.

From Baton Rouge, the men hitchhiked to Vicksburg, Miss., authorities said. That's where they are accused of carjacking David Michael Cupps of Sunbury, Ohio, who was on a business trip.

The fugitives were pulled over on Interstate 40 in West Tennessee that night, on March 4, in Cupps' rented car, but they were able to get away.

Meanwhile, Cupps was reported missing by his wife Wednesday morning. His body was found Wednesday at a hotel in Bessemer, Ala., and authorities said he was beaten and strangled.

Reports of the men being seen in Jackson cropped up Thursday. Authorities spent the weekend responding to tips in Jackson and Memphis.

The fugitives were spotted again Monday, after they tied up the park worker in Jackson. The worker was found at about 1:30 p.m., and he said the men asked how to get to Interstate 40, Madison County Sheriff David Woolfolk said.

Woolfolk said stealing a government truck showed the men had a "sense of desperation."

Authorities issued an alert for the white Ford Ranger pickup truck, which had markings for the Madison County parks department. Hours later, officers in Olive Branch spotted the men and began the chase that ended in the men's capture. It was not immediately known if they were still driving the stolen pickup truck.

Throughout the search, law enforcement and regular folks feared that any arrest would be violent and involve gunplay, considering the fugitives' history.

But it ended with a car crash.

"It was local law enforcement doing great police work," Memphis FBI spokesman Joel Siscovic said.