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Prison Guard Held Hostage Found Dead

April 16, 1993|JUDY PASTERNAK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LUCASVILLE, Ohio — Military trucks carrying troops moved into the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility Thursday after the body of a guard held hostage by mutinous inmates was found in the prison exercise yard, bringing the count of known dead in the uprising to eight.

Inmates also released a guard, reducing the number of hostages to six, a radio station reported late Thursday.

The hostage was released after an inmate complained in a live broadcast from the prison yard on Portsmouth station WPAY about prison conditions, the station reported.

The radio station broadcast the report from a table set up in the prison yard. The release of the hostage couldn't be immediately confirmed.

Hopes for a major breakthrough in ending the five-day siege seesawed late Thursday. They seemed to fizzle when a television reporter and engineer were abruptly ordered to leave the prison perimeter after spending 45 minutes there at the request of authorities. Then the inmate was given permission to speak over the radio station, which appeared to be a concession to the 450 rebelling prisoners.

The television journalists had set up a satellite link and audio lines at the direction of officials. "I was very hopeful that the prison officials had come up with a plan that would lead to a peaceable solution tonight," said the TV reporter, Bob Orr of WBNS, a CBS affiliate in Columbus.

"I am no longer hopeful that's going to happen tonight," he said before the announcement that an inmate would be given radio air time.

Authorities would not discuss when Robert R. Vallandingham, a 40-year-old corrections officer, died, or whether he was killed. His body was found at 12:20 p.m. in the prison yard outside the barricaded cellblock. About 90 minutes later, Vallandingham's sheet-covered remains were wheeled out of the prison.

He became the first prison employee to die in the five-day uprising, said state corrections spokeswoman Sharron Kornegay. Flags at the compound were lowered to half-staff.

Six bodies of inmates were found on Monday, the day after a possibly staged fight in the yard led to a riot, when the hostages were captured. Neighbors said scanners picked up someone yelling, "They've got the keys! They've got the keys! Officer down!"

Another prisoner's body was found on Tuesday in a cellblock linked to the barricaded building by a corridor.

Authorities have refused to comment on rumors in the community and reports in a local newspaper that the death toll may be much higher inside L Block, occupied by the rebelling inmates. They have been given food once--on Wednesday--since their midday meal on Easter.

About 4 p.m., state police squad cars began racing, lights on and turning, through the spring-green countryside toward the prison.

About the same time, Orr said he was "literally commandeered" from the field where the media have been waiting near the prison. He was working on tapes when "somebody grabbed me and next thing I knew I was in the back seat of a cruiser, with a negotiator . . . and the sheriff of Scioto County," where Lucasville is located.

Orr said he was asked technical questions and then was able to get an engineer from his crew to help.

After a conference call among Orr, station executives, the director of the Ohio Department of Correction and Rehabilitation and a department spokeswoman, the WNBS satellite truck was escorted by authorities to the south side of the prison, outside the fence about 1,000 feet from L Block.

They were told to stand by.

"The impression I got was that inmates had been concerned for some time that their side of the story be told," Orr said. He thought authorities needed him "to demonstrate access to the media."

The department director, Reginald Wilkinson, told him that "maybe this will do it, might help bring about a peaceful resolution," Orr said.

Orr made a brief live broadcast. He said he'd been told the inmates have battery-powered hand-held televisions and may have seen it.

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