By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Garth James Treadway got arrested in Fort Bend County on a South Carolina charge of endangering a child. The county jail made use of his electrician's skills while he awaited extradition for five months. Then the well-mannered inmate made trusty and was assigned to kitchen detail.
On January 11 around 7:30 p.m., the 35-year-old inmate and seven other prisoners carried several loads of garbage through the back door and down the loading ramp to the Dumpster. The seven others returned -- but Treadway hid behind the trash can outside.
The guard assumed everybody was inside.
"When she locked the door, he hit the street," says Fort Bend Sheriff Milton Wright. "It was probably 30 minutes before we missed him."
And it was six days before officers found him six states away. His ex- girlfriend says he was coming to kill her.
Donna Coe is a tired-looking 42-year-old blond, with puffy, wrinkled eyes and 15 coats of thick black polish to protect her fingernails.
Eight years ago, Coe left her husband and moved to North Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. She was painting condos on the Grand Strand and working weekend night shifts at Tiger Mart. Angry at her 23-year-old boyfriend for looking at other women while working as a beach lifeguard, she says, she told her co-worker that she was going to give her phone number to the next ugly guy who walked into the convenience store.
Five minutes lat-er, the five-foot-five Treadway appeared. He had long dark hair tied back in a pony tail, a scar slicing from his lip to his chin, and blazing blue eyes.
She gave him her number; he called. On their first date he took her to the Taj Mahal Indian restaurant, and in the morning he hung a bag of freshly picked flowers on her truck's rearview mirror.
"He was just Mr. Romeo," she says.
They soon moved in together, and she says early one morning he stopped rush-hour traffic, knelt in the middle of the highway and asked her to marry him.
When she said yes, everyone in the traffic jam blew their horns and cheered.
Five years later, Coe says, she caught him cheating on her. She moved out and says he described how he planned to kill her so no one would hear her scream. He sat on her front porch and cried. Other nights he stood in the street screaming.
Two years ago, Coe says, Treadway threatened to kill all of her friends and their relatives if she didn't come with him to Texas.
"He told me they was going to have to evacuate the beach," Coe says. "He said he was gonna blow that thing up, and he wasn't leaving that beach unless I went with him."
Treadway was already a wanted man. He'd ignored subpoenas and a bench warrant on his charge of endangering children. He was accused of leaving alone his two kids from a previous marriage.
Treadway figured Houston was a big enough town to get lost in, Coe says, so they drove here in early January 2001. In May the couple started working at Houston Stafford Electric. Treadway was the electrician, although Coe worked by his side. "He was scared to death to let me out of his sight because he was afraid I was gonna tell on him," Coe says.
And she did. In August, she stayed home pretending to be sick and called his bounty hunter. A few days later, Fort Bend sheriff's deputies arrested him while he worked at Sugar Land Baptist Church.
Coe's ex-roommate accepted a collect call from the jailed Treadway. She told him that Coe had turned him in and where he could find her, Coe says.
Sheriff Wright acknowledges that Treadway did not qualify to be a trusty. He has a rap sheet with more than 25 arrests in South Carolina for charges such as car theft and assault and battery. "He talks about doing some of the god-awfulest things to people," Coe says.
But what makes Treadway an even worse risk is that he'd already been charged twice with trying to escape from jail.
"Obviously, somebody messed up," Wright says. "They didn't review his record. We let our guard down, and he got to a position where he could run We get lax in our duties when things are going smooth."
Treadway's escape from the Fort Bend jail came only four days before he was scheduled to be transferred to South Carolina. "We were gonna give him a ride home the next week free," Wright says. "But he decided he wanted to go on his own a little early."
Five miles from the jail, the escapee stole a black pickup truck. Coe says Treadway went to a friend's house, said he had been released from jail, asked for a job and borrowed $20. Treadway allegedly told his friend he was going to kill Coe. "He said he was gonna kidnap me and chain me up in a warehouse and let people rape me until I died," Coe says.
Treadway called Coe the next morning but didn't mention that he had escaped, she says. He called again the next day. Coe says Texas Ranger Jeff Cook told her that if she didn't talk to Treadway, officers couldn't track him. Coe says he phoned her six times a day and that her calling card company helped officers trace his calls.
One night she sang him lyrics from a song she had made up for his children: "You need to come on over to my house."
I'm on my way, he said.
Yeah, she said. I hear you are.
The fugitive's songs ended shortly before noon on January 16. By then, the hunt by Fort Bend sheriff's detectives and the Texas ranger had expanded to a hefty posse -- the Harris County Sheriff's Department, Louisiana State Police, South Carolina State Police and both the Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach police departments.
"That's the way we handle escapees," Wright says. "We don't like to lose them. That's the first one we've lost since I've been sheriff We don't like to let them get away."
Two plainclothes police officers spotted Treadway in the stolen truck in a Myrtle Beach parking lot. Myrtle Beach Police Chief Warren Gall says police introduced themselves, then Treadway ran into a poster-and-frame store and tried to shut the door on them. The chief says they pulled him onto the sidewalk and Detective Dennis Pitsinger's gun was dislodged in the struggle. Treadway fell on it and told the officers, "Get off me, or I'll kill you," Gall says. Treadway fired one shot that narrowly missed officer Tracy Agro's head. When he ignored Agro's order to drop the gun, she shot him twice in the left hip and arrested him.
Treadway was charged with assault and battery with intent to kill, resisting arrest with a deadly weapon, having a stolen car and unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Coe says that after his arrest, reporters started hounding her. She claims she received 249 media phone calls in one day, and television crews followed her.
She still wears the triangular diamond ring Treadway gave her. She just switched it to her right hand, farther from her heart.
She fled South Carolina and is staying with friends in Houston. "I'm running," she says. She tells of being too scared to go home, that she doesn't know where to go next. However, before she disappears, she says, she'd like some movie producer or book agent to buy rights to her story. Then she figures she can use the cash to go into hiding.
"As long as he's breathing air, I'm not gonna feel safe," she says. "They've got him in the same old [South Carolina] jail he broke out of -- and he can con his way out of anything."
Guards took Treadway to the doctor to have his bullet wounds examined last week. They say he tried to use a paper clip to unlock his handcuffs.