Two inmates are still on the loose after escaping from the Okanogan County jail through the ventilation system early last Tuesday morning, Jan. 5.
Multiple law enforcement agencies are trying to find the men, Kristofer Wittman, age 28, and Christian White, age 53, Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley said this week.
Wittman and White were in the same housing unit, which held 11 inmates at the time. Their escape was the first time inmates have breached the ventilation system, Hawley said. In most areas, the ventilation system isn’t accessible, but this part of the jail was annexed several years ago, repurposed from other uses. The ceiling has since been repaired, he said.
Wittman has been in custody since September for multiple charges brought by Okanogan County, including possession of a stolen vehicle, attempt to elude and reckless driving.
White has been in custody since December for multiple charges brought by Douglas County, including a Department of Corrections warrant, possession of methamphetamine, hit and run, and fourth-degree assault.
Additional charges of escape and malicious mischief will be sought for both men. They were both awaiting sentencing.
While Wittman and White escaped together, it is not known if they’re still traveling together. They were wearing blue inmate attire with white long underwear when they escaped, but may have changed clothing since.
White left a note saying that he had escaped because he feared for his life from COVID-19 infections in the jail, Hawley said.
Since early December, after one inmate developed COVID symptoms, the jail has tested 63 inmates and 26 have tested positive for COVID. Some inmates declined to be tested.
There are not currently any inmates with COVID symptoms or in isolation or quarantine because of a positive test, Hawley said. Two staff members are recovering from COVID and expected to be back at work within the next week, he said.
Since March, the Sheriff’s Office has restricted booking criteria for new arrests to limit the risk of COVID, Hawley said. The office also developed guidelines with Okanogan County Public Health to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure for inmates, staff and others in the criminal justice system.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Late Tuesday as the paper was going to press, Hawley reported that White was captured in Portland, Oregon.