SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – In early February, three inmates incarcerated in the Sullivan County Jail escaped through an air vent in the ceiling of their cell. Among the three escapees was Tobias Carr, a man indicted on murder charges in the death of his wife in 2020.

Carr and one of the other inmates, Timothy Sarver, were confirmed dead after a police chase in North Carolina.

The third escapee, Johnny Brown, was arrested in Wilmington, North Carolina on Feb. 10 and is awaiting extradition back to Tennessee.

News Channel 11 spoke with Sullivan County Sheriff Jeff Cassidy on Monday to discuss the status of the Sullivan County Jail in the wake of the escape, which garnered national attention, and to learn more about how the inmates were able to get out in the first place.

Cassidy said jail staff wasn’t aware that the inmates had escaped late Feb. 3 until the next morning when a headcount was conducted.

“There was some time elapsed, and we don’t deny that, but once we were made aware of those escapees we took action immediately,” Cassidy said.

Details surrounding Carr and Sarver’s deaths have been limited. News Channel 11 was able to obtain scanner audio from the chase, but no official information has been released. However, Cassidy revealed new details in their deaths.

“During that pursuit and stop, one of the inmates – I can’t confirm which one – died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation has not released any other details related to the chase or the deaths.

According to Cassidy, an internal investigation is being conducted to determine how the inmates were able to pull off their escape, steal a truck and leave the state. He said it is clear that human error was involved.

“We’ve addressed those issues, and the officers are aware there was human error,” Cassidy said.

However, Cassidy says the jail itself is also to blame for the escape. A host of problems at the facility have resulted in Cassidy describing it as inadequate for housing the county’s criminals.

“That’s no excuse. I’ll take full responsibility myself. We do have a poorly designed, overcrowded, understaffed facility and that’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.

The Sullivan County Jail is certified to properly hold 619 inmates. As of Wednesday, 929 inmates make up the population of the jail.

“It’s a poorly-designed facility,” Cassidy said. “When I first got elected, I knew that was one of my big trial and tribulations coming in here.”

One of the security issues the jail faces is its low ceilings. Cassidy said that structural flaw gives the inmates easy access to the cameras inside.

“What they do is they wet toilet paper or towels and stick it on the camera, and then we don’t have a visual of what’s going on in the cells.”

Efforts have been made to improve functionality and security at the jail in the wake of the escape. According to Cassidy, staffing has been increased, security checks have been doubled and the facility has been gone over from top to bottom to look for weaknesses.

“We have enhanced and improved on everything we know of,” Cassidy said. “We’re talking all security measures to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Ultimately, the goal is to rid the jail of its problems through a $90 million expansion project. The county plans to break ground on that new project Monday, but crews can already be seen preparing the site.

“We got all the commissioners, the mayors here to tour the facility and see all the failures we do have,” he said. “It’s a 30-year-old building and it’s dilapidated. It needs a lot of work done.”

Cassidy said despite the County Commission’s support and approval for the project, there is still a long road ahead for the jail. He believes though that the issue is well-known enough for the expansion to maintain support.

“The commission and the mayor, the public even knows. I’ve talked to many people in the public and they’ve known this jail needs something done to it for ten years now,” Cassidy said. “So they can be rest assured that we are doing everything we possibly can to prevent this from happening again.”