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Inmate tries to escape at hospital
Drug suspect tried to elude guards by climbing into ceiling
Officers check restraints on inmate Travis Cooler after he was pulled down from above a drop-down ceiling at Liberty Regional Medical Center Tuesday night. - photo by Lewis Levine

Liberty Regional Medical Center got tense Tuesday night as a Liberty County Jail inmate eluded control of his guard and authorities needed about an hour and a half to get him back into custody.

The inmate apparently crawled above a drop-down ceiling of an emergency room restroom. The ER and hospital were locked down while officials searched.

According to a report filed by Liberty County Sheriffs Court Officer Bruce Duncan and Hinesville Police Officer Michael Welter, inmate Travis Cooler, 20, of Bloomington, was taken to the hospital by a guard about 4 p.m. Cooler had been arrested the day before on narcotics charges and was complaining of withdrawals.

Cooler asked the jailer, who has not been identified, if Cooler could use the restroom while they were in the ER. Wearing leg shackles and an orange jump suit, Cooler was sent to the restroom alone around 7 p.m. While there, Cooler allegedly climbed above the ceiling panels.

When it was discovered Cooler was no longer in the restroom, an alert was broadcast, attracting dozens of officers from the Hinesville Police Department and Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, including jail personnel. Ladder trucks from Hinesville Fire Department were called in so the hospital’s roofs could be watched in case the inmate made it out a vent.

Using ladders, officers and detectives from both agencies lifted ceiling tiles to look Cooler. In the main entrance, Officer Jassen Garrett climbed onto a gurney and then onto the shoulders of a detective to peer above the tiles.

Cooler, who kept quiet during the search, was found above the emergency room about 15 feet from where he climbed into the ceiling. LCSO Sgt. Shawn Fields, was first to see him, had climbed into the ceiling from a utility room and saw damage to a firewall near the ER restroom. Fields said he spotted Cooler’s orange jumpsuit as the officer cleared away chunks of sheetrock.

Fields ordered Cooler to come to him. Cooler, according to Fields, did not respond at first but eventually began making his way toward the officer. At the same time, another officer on a ladder near the ambulance entrance grabbed Cooler through a vent and brought him down into the arms of officers.

Cooler was handcuffed and taken back to jail where he was charged with felony escape. Fields said Wednesday that Cooler could move only about 100 feet either way because of firewalls. The area Fields was able to fit in was about 3 feet tall, making it a tight fit for the 6-foot-4 inch deputy. Cooler was found in an area where there was room to stand.

Hinesville Police Sgt. Mike Gosseck, who led the search, said no one was injured.

Sheriff Steve Sikes said Wednesday the department is reviewing policies on how inmates are handled. He said the near escape is under investigation and declined to comment on the jailer or specifics on the case.

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