Investigators: Prison escapees murdered man they carjacked, manhunt underway

JACKSON, TN (WMC-TV) - Investigators said Thursday two escaped prisoners murdered a man they carjacked, and then dumped his body nearly 300 miles away.

David Cupps, 53, of Ohio was carjacked by the two escapees, Ricky Wedgeworth and Darian "Drake" Pierce.  His body was found at a Comfort Inn in Bessemer, Alabama.

Investigators believe the pair ran into the woods off I-40 after they carjacked an SUV rented by Cupps days after their escape from prison work detail in Louisiana.

"We said before they were extremely, considered armed and dangerous," TBI Special Agent in Charge John Mehr said. "They've proven that."

A Tennessee trooper's dash cam caught a picture of the escapees with the victim's car.

Officials said Cupps was in Vicksburg to inspect the Grand Gulf nuclear power plant. He called his wife about 4 p.m. Tuesday to say he was heading to his hotel and would call her from there.

When he didn't, she called the hotel. He had never checked in. After calling his employer and learning that he had not shown up for work, his wife called Vicksburg police Wednesday to report him missing, authorities said.

"There's no doubt that the escapees actually carried him to Alabama," Mehr said.

Federal, state and local officials set up a command post in the parking lot of the Cinema Planet Movie Theater as they searched for Wedgeworth and Pierce.

"Let me be real clear," said Madison County Sheriff David Woolfork.  "We have no credible information that the suspects have left the area.  No information at all, so we're having to assume they're still here."

Jackson residents were on alert as officials swarmed the town to search for two dangerous escapees.

Ruby Hill and Nathaniel Johnson said their dogs, Otis and Brody, were ready to warn them of anything suspicious.

"They are always alerting us to any noises there might be," said Hill.

"Whenever someone comes to the door, they freak out," said Johnson.  "So it's fine."

Investigators spent most of the day Thursday following up leads.  Officers stopped traffic along Old Medina Road to share information about Wedgeworth and Pierce.

Authorities were asking for help from residents as they went door-to-door to search for the escapees.

"It's kind of nerve-wracking, just because you have the lights and the sirens and helicopters going around and police coming up to your door and asking you stuff," said Johnson.

Wedgeworth is described as about 5-foot-8 and 145 pounds, with reddish brown hair and brown eyes. Pierce is described as about 5-foot-11 and 145 pounds, with brown hair and eyes. Both are white and tattooed.  Pierce has a tattoo on his back that says "DRAKE" in Old English lettering.

Wedgeworth was serving time in Louisiana for armed robbery, and Pierce for attempted second-degree murder.

Investigators said it is not unusual for escapees to lay low for two or three days waiting for law enforcement to let their guard down.

"Lock your doors at night," said TBI special agent John Mehr.

Copyright 2011 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.  The AP contributed to this report.