By Sarah Wibell
Morgan County authorities last Wednesday played an integral role in a multi–state manhunt that led to the arrest and detention of a recently released South Carolina felon who stands accused of kidnapping a 4–year–old girl and severely beating the child’s mother in what local authorities are describing as a “stranger on stranger” crime.
Thomas Lawton Evans, 37, was apprehended on Wednesday, Feb. 14, the same day Morgan County authorities worked a burglary and theft case at a Davis Academy Road residence that led Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I) agents in both Georgia and Alabama to the vehicle stolen in Morgan County and driven by Evans.
According to an F.B.I. criminal complaint, Evans allegedly held a knife to the child’s mother early in the morning of Feb. 13 at the woman’s Johns Island, S.C. home before tying the woman up and beating her to the point that she suffered facial fractures and brain bleeding. Evans then allegedly fled the St. Johns area in a black Honda Civic registered to Sharon Nannette Hayden, 39, a South Carolina woman who allegedly picked Evans up from prison but has been missing for more than 10 days. He also, reports state, left the woman’s residence with her 4-year-old daughter. The woman was found in the home after day care workers, alarmed that she had not picked up her three children, notified Johns Island police for a welfare check.
The same woman’s debit card was used at a Greensboro convenience store at 7:29 a.m. on Feb. 14, one day after the child was abducted and the woman was attacked.
Also on Feb. 14 police in Riverside, Ala. responded to a suspicious vehicle complaint in a wooded area. Riverside Police Chief Rick, Oliver responded and, reports state, observed Evans sleeping in the vehicle with a small child in adult clothing also in the vehicle. The chief, reports state, “noticed the odor of intoxicants about the driver’s person” and was given Evans actual name during questioning. Evans handed the chief the child and then fled in the Impala.
He was apprehended near the Mississippi state line that night.
The arrest came, in part, after Morgan County authorities alerted federal and state agencies that at the Impala, stolen sometime between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. on Feb. 14, was equipped with a tracking device. The vehicle’s owner, an agricultural company based in California, were immediately able to relay the vehicle’s whereabouts to federal officers searching for the Evans.
Morgan County Deputy Christopher Lash responded to the burglary complaint call at the Davis Academy residence at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 14. Lash and other investigators also observed that the Honda Civic was parked in a wooded area near the Davis Academy residence. “Not only was a car stolen but a car was left there,” said Keith Howard, chief deputy, Morgan County Sheriff’s Office. The residence backs up to Interstate 20, Morgan County Sheriff Robert Markley said.
Authorities ran the Honda’s registration and while it was not reported stolen it was registered to South Carolina resident Hayden, who has since been labeled a missing person.
Markley said investigators contacted the owner of the Impala and were told that the Impala was traveling westbound on Interstate 20 near Birmingham. At this point, Markley said, the child had been rescued but Evans was on the run.
“Our dispatch center and officers worked very quickly to get the information out there,” Markley said. Other items were taken from the burglary including a television set, currency and some clothing.
According to Live 5 News Web Staff, Evans was imprisoned for armed robbery with a deadly weapon and second degree burglary and held a hostage while in prison in December, 2017 prior to his Feb. 1, 2018 release. ABC News reported that Evans was also arrested for strong-armed robbery in 2002 and criminal sexual conduct with a minor. Evans, various reports state, was also disciplined numerous time while incarcerated, On two occasions he was disciplined for possession a weapon.