TBI: "Extremely dangerous" inmate escaped on tractor, $25,000 reward offered

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RIPLEY, Tenn. (AP/WVLT) - Authorities in Tennessee are searching for an escaped inmate who is a person of interest in the recent homicide of a Department of Correction employee.

Governor Bill Lee announced a $25,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the inmate.

Former Knoxville Police Chief and current TBI Director David Rausch asked the public to look out for each other as long as the inmate is on the run.

"Check on your neighbors," said Rausch. "He could be anywhere. In Tennessee or a surrounding state."

Officals said he is extremely dangerous. Anyone who sees him should not approach him, but call 911 immediately.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says 44-year-old Curtis Ray Watson escaped Wednesday from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) outside of Memphis. WTVF reported Watson escaped using a tractor which was found a mile away from the facility.

The TBI issued a "Blue Alert," which is used to inform the public of violent suspects who kill or seriously injure law enforcement officers in the line of duty.

Authorities say 64-year-old Debra Johnson, a correctional administrator, was killed on Wednesday. They didn't give further details.

Watson has been incarcerated since 2012 for an aggravated kidnapping conviction. Police said at the time that Watson knocked a woman over the head with an object and raped her multiple times.

TBI says Watson should be considered extremely dangerous.

The TBI has taken reported sightings of Watson, including one in Marshall County but are working to confirm that.

A news conference was held at 1:30 p.m. at TBI Headquarters. Speakers included Governor Bill Lee, TBI Director David Rausch and TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker.

Anyone with any information is asked to call 911 or 1-800-TBI-FIND.

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