Former prison escapee dies in accident

James Russell Weddell, who died in a one-vehicle crash near Wagner early Saturday, had a colorful history.

Weddell was among six inmates at the South Dakota Penitentiary who escaped from prison on May 16, 1987 in what was the largest prison break in South Dakota history. At the time, he was serving an 80-year sentence in the manslaughter conviction of Randy Caldwell, who died of head injuries during a fight near a Wagner liquor store.

The six escapees included Rodney Berget, who is current on death row for killing officer Ron Johnson during another escape attempt in 2011. Eric Robert, who was with Berget in the 2011 escape attempt, was put to death last year for Johnson’s murder.

Of the six who escaped in 1987, all but Weddell were apprehended within two months. But Weddell managed to elude authorities for two years.