Denver F. Bennett

Upshur Sheriff: Escaped work crew prisoner sighted Tuesday is not believed to still be in the area, no history of violence

BUCKHANNON – The inmate who escaped custody while serving on a work crew in Elkins last week was seen off the Kesling Mill Road Tuesday, prompting another large-scale manhunt – this time in Upshur County – but to no avail.

According to a previous story, Denver F. Bennett, 30, of Valley Head, had been transported from the Pruntytown Correctional Center & Jail in Taylor County on Sept. 15 to Elkins as part of a work crew assisting the city with preparations for the Mountain State Forest Festival, which gets underway Sept. 30.

On Wednesday, Upshur County Sheriff Mike Coffman reassured residents that Bennett does not have a history of violence, and officers don’t believe he’s staying in the area.

Bennett initially eluded capture in Randolph County on Sept. 15, but Coffman confirmed Bennett had been spotted walking down a gravel road off Kesling Mill Road sometime Tuesday, Sept. 19.

“There was a 911 call, and the caller was sure that it was that individual because they had seen photos in the media,” the sheriff said. “We had units in the area at the time actually, so they were on scene within a matter of minutes and didn’t locate the subject. While we were out searching, I got flagged down by a guy who lives right there, and he said [Bennett] walked down this little gravel road right along the woods.”

Assisted by neighboring city and county units, West Virginia State Police, the U.S. Marshals Service and approximately 10 K-9 units, officers combed the area.

“We searched, and we didn’t find the individual, but we obtained camera footage from a nearby security camera, and it confirmed that the individual did indeed walk down that road, and we confirmed that he met the description of the escapee,” Coffman said.

According to video footage and sightings, Bennett has been seen on foot wearing khaki pants, white tennis shoes, a red flannel shirt and a ball cap, Coffman said.

Coffman urged residents to secure their homes and properties but said Bennett has no history of violence.

“They have assured us that he’s never been violent in the past,” Coffman said. “He’s stolen some items in the past, and he’s also fled from law enforcement officers numerous times in the past, but there’s no record of violence in his past.”

As previously reported, Bennett was convicted in Randolph County in 2018 for two counts of felony shoplifting and in Randolph County in 2022 for fleeing from an officer and fleeing from an officer in a vehicle, according to the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Division’s website.

Coffman said deputies have been and continue to follow multiple leads.

“We’ve followed up on numerous leads that came into the 911 Center and that we received at the office all [Tuesday] night and all of today,” the sheriff said.

Coffman also said officers don’t believe Bennett is hiding in the area.

“After conferring with U.S. Marshals Service and other law enforcement officials, we don’t believe he’s holed up in the area or staying anywhere in the area here,” Coffman said. “I think it’s important for people to know that. We don’t feel that he’s remaining in the area where the Kesling Mill sighting was.”

Randolph County Sheriff Rob Elbon said his deputies assisted the Upshur County Sheriff’s Office in the search until about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday night.

“If we have a call, we’ll definitely be back out,” Elbon said Wednesday.

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