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High-tech heartbeat detector foils prison escape

Device developed in Oak Ridge helps nab murderer

September 9, 1999

By Laura Ayo, News-Sentinel staff writer

The heartbeat of a convicted murderer foiled his attempt to escape from West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning.

A device dubbed the "heartbeat detector" gave away Randy Bone's hiding place in a tractor-trailer headed out of the prison Tuesday afternoon, said Tennessee Department of Correction spokeswoman Pam Hobbins.

It's the first time, to Hobbins' knowledge, that the device, developed by the U.S. Department of Energy at Oak Ridge, has prevented a prison escape since the correction department installed the equipment for that very purpose in 1997.

Hobbins said the truck was on its way out of the prison to Shelbyville, Tenn., after having been loaded with basketballs, which are inflated and boxed by inmates. The truck's driver stopped the vehicle at a sally port check point for a routine exit inspection.

"It's (the heartbeat detector) used every time a vehicle goes in and out," Hobbins said.

The device uses sensors connected to the vehicle and a computer to record shock waves emitted from a heartbeat. It takes less than a minute to make the detection.

When the officers at the check point hooked up the sensors, Hobbins said, the device indicated someone was in the truck.

One of the officers crawled into the vehicle and found Bone hiding under a pallet of large cardboard boxes near the front portion of the truck, she said.

"They came face to face," Hobbins said. "He (Bone) had a knife and tried to swipe at the correction officer, but missed."

She described the knife as a prisoner-made shank.

An internal investigation into how Bone, who is serving two life sentences for murders committed in 1988 in Davidson County, got into the truck and obtained the weapon is being conducted, she added.

"He (Bone) snuck into the truck somehow," Hobbins said.

The people driving the truck did not know he was in there, she added.

Bone, who had been a "minimum restricted" inmate, was placed in the maximum security portion of the prison in a cell by himself, she said.

He will be charged with attempted escape, which is a felony.

Hobbins said the Department of Correction purchased five heartbeat detectors after the device was tested in 1996 at Nashville's Riverbend Maximum Security Institution.

The devices are located at four maximum security prisons and a medium security facility, she said.

Laura Ayo may be reached at 423-521-1843 or ayo@knews.com.

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