Burst pipes leave jail offices afloat|Offices shut down in 33-year-old part

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A hallway in the Warren County Jail office area was cordoned off with police tape Monday morning. Despite what the yellow tape read, it was not exactly a crime scene — but it certainly was a watery mess.

Water pipes above the first-floor offices either burst or were stopped up by inmates on the second floor, said Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace. Water began pouring from the ceiling around 6:30 Monday morning, and momentarily left a few inches of standing water.

“There was water running down the hallway, and they’ve been hauling it out in buckets and sweeping it out the door all morning,” Pace said as he sidestepped pails and plastic garbage cans placed to catch the yellowish-brown water streaming from various parts of the ceiling. “It’s completely shut down the office side of the jail,” the sheriff said.

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Plumbers were still trying to find the source of the leaks and determine the cause hours after they began. Reached this morning, Pace said he was still waiting for a final diagnosis, but added it appeared a bed sheet had attempted to be flushed. The pipes date to construction of the jail about 33 years ago.

Monday’s leaks were from incoming supply pipes, the sheriff said. Other deluges have been caused by inmates attempting to flush everything from towels to bedsheets, resulting in overflows. 

“This is the third time in as many years the pipes have either burst or have been stopped up by the inmates. The good news is we believe it’s just water this time — once before it was raw sewage,” the sheriff said. “If it is determined someone has done this deliberately, a criminal investigation will ensue and we will charge whoever is found to be responsible.”

Jail Administrator Linda Pugh said water was backed up in the day room area of the second floor cell block, as well as the catwalk area of female cell block on the first floor of the jail. However, Pugh said no inmates needed to be moved Monday morning and they would not be affected as the areas were being cleaned up. 

“Everything is happening as normal,” she said. “This is nothing new to us.”

Six workspaces in four separate offices were affected by the leaks and minor flooding, said Pace. At least one computer was ruined, as were a number of office supplies and ceiling tiles. Pace said some jail and sheriff’s department records were also damaged, but would likely be salvaged.

“We have not lost anything that would compromise the prosecution of a case, and we’ve probably not lost anything permanently,” he said, noting some water also flowed into an evidence storage room.

Pace and his staff are preparing to deal with continuing leaks for a few days.

“It’s usually several days before the water stops weeping down through the ceiling,” he said. “We’ll just have to deal with it.”

The Warren County Board of Supervisors has made headway toward building a new jail to replace the 128-bed facility on Grove Street, the oldest parts of which date back 105 years. At a meeting in December with hired consultant Voorhis/Robertson Justice Services, a plan was unveiled for a 350-bed, 130,000-square-foot, $26 million jail to be built on a yet-to-be-identified 50-acre rural site. Board of Supervisors President Richard George has speculated completing a new jail is about four years away.

Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com