published Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Jail awaited Moccasin Bend escapee

Officers and rescue personnel prepare to search for Waylon Farless, who escaped from Moccasin Bend Mental Health Facility. Witnesses saw Farless in the middle of the river, struggling before he became submerged.
Officers and rescue personnel prepare to search for Waylon Farless, who escaped from Moccasin Bend Mental Health Facility. Witnesses saw Farless in the middle of the river, struggling before he became submerged.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

Waylon Farless had been in the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute for just three days when he fled and jumped into the Tennessee River.

The action cost him his life. His body was found Thursday morning along the shore about a mile downriver from the Moccasin Bend facility.

Officials are unsure how Farless got to the roof of a building, allowing his escape Tuesday evening, but they have an idea why he wanted to leave.

Bill Ventress, Moccasin Bend's chief executive officer, said employees learned from other patients that Farless knew he was going to be discharged into police custody the following day. Farless, 36, had been charged by the DeKalb County, Tenn., Sheriff's Office with driving on a revoked license and theft of property over $1,000, according to a blog kept by the department. He was taken to Moccasin Bend after allegedly trying to harm himself while being held in the Smith County, Tenn., Jail, the most recent blog update said.

"The legal holds in general, we try to keep an extra eye on them," Ventress said. "We try not to let them know when they are being discharged, because most of the time, it's back to jail. That's not a place people usually want to go."

An investigation is being conducted into how Farless found out about his pending discharge, Ventress said.

Chattanooga police also are conducting an investigation into Farless' escape and death.

Escapes from Moccasin Bend have been rare in recent years, Ventress said.

"We've had, over the years, patients of all different varieties try to elope," Ventress said, using the hospital's term for people who try to leave before they have been discharged.

But in his 11 years as CEO, Ventress said he can only think of one other person who had fled successfully. Ventress said he could not recall the details about that incident because it happened so long ago, but he recalled that the woman fled to the river and later was found alive.

On Farless' escape, police were called to Moccasin Bend about 7 p.m. Tuesday after the facility reported that Farless had jumped from the roof of one of the buildings, scaled a fence and jumped into the river.

Police combed the river for almost 24 hours before ending the river search Wednesday evening, according to Chattanooga police spokesman Officer Nathan Hartwig. Farless' body was found the next morning.

The fence Farless scaled to get to the river is not a part of the mental health facility but belongs to the National Park Service and separates Moccasin Bend from the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Ventress said.

Moccasin Bend is not a heavily guarded facility, even though one out of every 10 patients is a prisoner who has been brought from — and eventually will return to — jail.

"We have security guards, like all the hospitals in the area, that provide basic security at the entrances," Ventress said.

The Moccasin Bend facilities consist of a main building where patients, some administration, nurses, psychologists and a pharmacy are located. There is a secondary building for administration. Each floor of the facility typically has a few registered nurses and psychiatric assistants to help support and monitor patients, he added.

The hallways and rooms of Moccasin Bend are painted in calming colors, and most rooms are shared by two patients — though there are some single-occupancy rooms. The average stay for a patient is eight days, according to Ventress.

He said it was unfortunate that events like Farless' escape give Moccasin Bend a lot of attention.

"We serve many, many people each year, but we have events like these that overshadow everything," he said. "The staff do a lot. This is not an easy population to work with, as you can imagine."

about Rachel Bunn...

Rachel Bunn is originally from Ellijay, Ga., and graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in magazines and history. While at UGA, she wrote for the student magazine UGAzine, served as news editor for the student newspaper, The Red & Black, and spent a semester studying British history at Oxford University in Oxford, England. She has previously worked at The Rockdale Citizen in Conyers, Ga., and The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the ...

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