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Search continues for inmate who walked off West Virginia work release

CHARLESTON — Authorities are continuing the search for an inmate who ran off from a work release detail at the Mountain State Forest Festival office in Randolph County.

“We’re just following leads at this point,” Randolph County Sheriff Robert Elbon Jr. said in a Monday telephone interview. “We’re basically following leads, and if we get them we go to the area and check it out.”

The inmate still on the loose has been identified as 30-year-old Denver Bennett, who, at the time, was wearing tan pants and a white T-shirt. He’s listed as 6 feet tall and 210 pounds.

He’s described as a native of the area, who knows the region well. “He is a woodsman type and very elusive in the forest setting,” the Randolph County Sheriff wrote in a social media post.

Bennett had been an inmate at the Pruntytown Correctional Center with two prior convictions: shoplifting, 3rd offense in 2018 and felony fleeing from an officer in a vehicle in 2022. His projected release date was July 2030, although a parole hearing is scheduled for April.

He had been the subject of local crime news previously. A WDTV television headline from a 2021 story that focused on Bennett was, “Man allegedly breaks into Randolph County home, steals items, eats Vienna sausages and Jell-O.”

The homeowner in that incident also reported missing potato chips and empty Coke cans, but he found fishing boots that were not his own.

In this case, Sheriff Elbon said Bennett was on work release to help with preparation for the annual forest festival that starts Sept. 30.

“They’ve had inmates for years that have come and help put up stages and things like that, steps and whatever it takes to make that thing go over the years,” Elbon said on the telephone. “They also take the stuff down when it’s over. It’s something they’ve done for years.

“Now this guy, he’s been an escape risk for us — every time we went after him, parole, things like that — he’s run off from parole a couple of times as well. They brought him up to work and he took off.”

Officers with the help of canine units responded to his escape on Friday. The search effort led first to the McDonalds in Elkins and then into the woods behind a KFC.

“We weren’t able to catch up to him,” Elbon said as a new week began. “He’s still on the run.”