Two inmates who escaped William Head in Metchosin were caught after commenting on the size of Lewis the great Dane. He was being walked John Ferguson, an RCMP member who was off-duty at the time. Lewis has been made an honorary West Shore RCMP member. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)

Escaped William Head inmates recognized after commenting on off-duty RCMP officer’s dog

Prisoners back in police custody, expected to appear in court Wednesday

Two inmates who were at large in Metchosin after escaping a low security prison on Sunday have been recaptured and are in police custody.

On July 7, James Lee Busch and Zachary Armitage escaped from William Head Institution in Metchosin. Correction Service of Canada reported the inmates were wanted for being unlawfully at large. Police said the two were dangerous and asked members of the public not to approach them if spotted.

Const. Nancy Saggar of West Shore RCMP said several resources, such as an air services helicopter, the police services dog and extra officers, were used to follow leads and search for the inmates.

On July 9 at about 8 p.m. Busch and Armitage were located and arrested after an off-duty RCMP officer spotted them in Esquimalt and called 911 so the Victoria Police Department could respond.

READ ALSO: Escaped inmates serving time for second-degree murder, aggravated assault

The off-duty officer — Sgt. John Ferguson — was walking his dog, a great Dane named Lewis, in the West Bay area in Esquimalt when the escapees commented on how big Lewis is.

“The one said ‘oh what a big dog’ and the other one said ‘yeah what a great looking dog,’” Ferguson said. “I turned and said ‘thank you he’s a big baby’ and I immediately recognized them as they walked by me.”

Ferguson said he called 911 and went for an “extra long walk” with Lewis to follow them. At one point, Ferguson said he lost them but asked a couple that was walking down the path if they saw the two men and they did.

“I continued on … saw them down the path and called 911 again,” Ferguson said. “I reported where they were and what they were wearing … a short while later the cavalry came.”

Ferguson said the escapees were in regular clothes, dressed in hoodies with their hoods up. He said he followed them for less than a kilometre.

READ ALSO: Facts about William Head Institution

“They were just walking like tourists,” Ferguson said. “They seemed really relaxed the way they were talking to Lewis…just out for a leisurely walk.”

The Victoria Police Department has since turned over the inmates to West Shore RCMP. The duo appeared at the Western Communities Courthouse Wednesday and the cases have been adjourned to Aug. 1.

Saggar said they will face charges for being unlawfully at large. Saggar was unable to comment on information about where the two inmates were hiding because she said the details are to be addressed in court.

In a media release, West Shore RCMP thanked the public, Vic PD and Ferguson.

Ferguson’s dog, Lewis, was sporting a police badge on Wednesday after becoming an honorary member of the West Shore RCMP.

Busch, 42, is serving a sentence for second-degree murder and assault and has served time for aggravated sexual assault and escaping custody.

Armitage, 30, is serving a 13-year, 10-month sentence for robbery, aggravated assault and other offences.

Correctional Service Canada is conducting an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the escape.

William Head Institution is about 40 kilometres from Victoria and is a federal minimum-security facility for men. It opened in 1959 and can house about 190 offenders.

William Head is the only federal penitentiary on Vancouver Island and approximately 50 per cent of its inmates are serving life sentences.


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James Lee Busch and Zachary Armitage are back in police custody after their escape from William Head Institution on Sunday. (Correctional Service of Canada/Facebook)

Two inmates who escaped William Head in Metchosin were caught after commenting on the size of Lewis the great Dane. He was being walked John Ferguson, an RCMP member who was off-duty at the time. Lewis has been made an honorary West Shore RCMP member. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)

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