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Man involved in '87 prison break dies in Wagner crash

WAGNER (AP) — A man who took part in the largest prison escape in South Dakota history died over the weekend in a one-vehicle rollover crash near Wagner.

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James Weddell, 57, died at the scene when his sport utility vehicle veered into a ditch and rolled early Saturday morning, according to the Highway Patrol.

Weddell was one of six inmates who escaped from the State Penitentiary in May 1987 by cutting through bars and crawling through a ventilation shaft in a recreation building, the Argus Leader newspaper reported. All but Weddell were recaptured within two months. It took authorities two years to apprehend him.

Former U.S. Marshal Gene Abdallah eventually tracked Weddell down on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

"I hunted him down like a dog," Abdallah said Monday.

Weddell was serving an 80-year sentence on a manslaughter conviction. In 2003, a judge ruled he hadn't received a fair trial. In a deal with prosecutors, Weddell pleaded guilty to assault and was released on probation.

"Time had passed," said Terry Pechota, a lawyer who represented Weddell. "To try and retry that case after that many years would have been very difficult."

Abdallah said Weddell reached out to him after being released to tell the former U.S. marshal he harbored no hard feelings toward him.

"He finished his sentence, and he and I became friends," Abdallah said.