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Dragnet out for fugitive and wife

Both escape in hail of gunfire that killed a guard

A search is under way for George Hyatte and his wife.



(CNN) -- A statewide manhunt was under way Tuesday in Tennessee for an escaped prisoner and his wife, a former prison nurse, after she sprung him from his armed escort in a hail of gunfire outside a courthouse in Kingston, authorities said.

One guard was shot and died from his wounds.

Kingston Police Chief Jim Washam said authorities were looking for George C. Hyatte, 34, and his wife, Jennifer Lyn Hyatte, 31. One or both may be wounded, he said.

Washam described George Hyatte as African-American, 5 feet 5 and 140 pounds, with black hair, brown eyes and tattoos on his upper body. His wife is white, 5 feet 4 and 142 pounds, with red hair and hazel eyes, he said.

"We'll bring these people to justice just as soon as we can," Washam said.

The incident began about 10 a.m. as guards escorted Hyatte in handcuffs and leg irons from the Roane Country Courthouse following a proceeding on an armed robbery charge, authorities said.

As the armed corrections officers prepared to put Hyatte into a waiting van, "a dark-colored SUV appeared behind the van," Washam said. "Mr. Hyatte hollered, 'Shoot 'em!'

"She opened fire on the officers, hitting one in the abdomen," he said.

The other officer fired a shot, but the SUV sped off, stopping only to pick up Hyatte, who had run to another part of the parking lot, a witness said.

Guard Wayne Morgan, 56, was taken by helicopter to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, where he died at 11:10 a.m., said a hospital spokeswoman.

A 28-year veteran of the Tennessee Department of Corrections, Morgan was married and had two children, said Amanda Sluss, a department spokeswoman.

He worked for the transportation team at the Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex in Morgan County, where Hyatte was incarcerated.

Police found the abandoned blue Ford Explorer with blood on the driver's side about a quarter mile from the courthouse, Washam said.

The two "apparently then got in another vehicle," he said. Police were searching for a gold Chevrolet van witnesses said had been parked overnight near where the SUV was found.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation described the vehicle as a late-model Chevrolet Venture van, gold with black trim.

The TBI said the couple could be headed to Hendersonville, 120 miles from Kingston, where George Hyatte used to live.

Jennifer Hyatte was fired in August 2004 from her job as a contract licensed practical nurse at Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville for having an inappropriate relationship with Hyatte, said Darrell Alley, a Tennessee Department of Corrections spokesman.

Alley said she was caught smuggling food from a restaurant into the prison and acknowledged to officials that it was for Hyatte. At the time, they were not married and she called herself Jennifer Forsyth, Alley said.

Hyatte escaped from county jail twice before, said Sheryl Jordan, chief deputy court clerk for Rhea County, 70 miles from Kingston. The first escape was in 1998; the second in 2002, she said.

Hyatte has been convicted of aggravated assault, aggravated burglary and burglary in the third degree, felonies dating to 1989. He was sentenced in 1998 to 36 months for the first of his prior escapes.

He began serving his latest sentence at the end of 2002 and was to have been released in July 2036.

Proper protocol was followed for handling a prisoner with his escape record, Sluss said. Hyatte was accompanied by two armed officers, and he was wearing handcuffs, a waist chain and leg irons, she said.

Craig Gray told CNN affiliate WBIR-TV that he was leaving the courthouse with his 5-year-old daughter when he saw a prisoner being loaded into a van in the courthouse parking lot.

At that point, a Ford Explorer drove up, a woman at the wheel, he said.

"The Explorer pulled up, slung the door open and started firing," Gray said. "The other officer jumped in the van and come out the passenger side door and returned fire. She took off."

The SUV drove to a distant end of the lot, where the prisoner ran to meet her. "She picked him up over there and they took off," Gray said.

"This hasn't happened before," said Scott Stout, public information officer for Roane County Emergency Management Agency, referring to Kingston, a town of about 6,000 residents 32 miles west of Knoxville in eastern Tennessee.

The courthouse was locked down briefly, then reopened. Area schools remained locked down.

Besides the TBI, Kingston police were being helped by the FBI, a Knox County SWAT team and the Oak Ridge Police Department.

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