EATONTON, Ga. - One year after a deadly prison bus escape, we finally hear from someone who saw the tragedy unfold.
The Georgia Department of Corrections says a pair of inmates took advantage of security mistakes and murdered two corrections officers.
But there were 31 other prisoners on that bus that fateful day.
One of them was a convicted burglar now out on parole. A man who asked us to call him Ringo. Someone who had a front-row seat to a horrible crime that's already prompted big changes in how inmates are transported.
"It was senseless," he stressed. "There was no point in doing what they did or how they did it.”
Ringo got on the prison bus before dawn June 13, 2017. Joining him were two inmates with violent histories he'd seen before in other prison facilities: Ricky DuBose, who he only knew as "Juvy." And Donnie Rowe, who everyone called Whiskey.
“I heard Rowe," Rambo remembered. "He said I got a long time. I might not ever get out again. He said if I can make it happen, I'm going to try to escape today."
Talk is cheap, especially in a world of prison bars and steel shackles. But in the space of only a few seconds, Ringo would watch talk become tragedy: the double murder of Sgts. Curtis Billue and Chris Monica.
"You could just feel it in the atmosphere," Ringo observed.
A Department of Corrections review blamed the murders on multiple security failures.. starting before the sun ever rose on that fateful morning.
“Did they have a real plan or did they just seize an opportunity?" I asked.
"Just seized an opportunity.”
Ringo says no one searched the 33 inmates after they boarded, allowing DuBose to smuggle in something -- maybe a razor he thinks -- to pop his handcuffs which were not double-locked as policy required.
Ringo says Dubose asked him to sit in the front seat as he quietly worked loose the shackles.
“He was like I just don't want no bullcrap in the seat with me. So that right there told me he was serious about trying to do what they'd been discussing.”
With Dubose sitting behind Monica who was assigned to monitor the inmates... and Rowe moving up to sit behind Sgt. Billue who was driving, the pair was primed to make their move.
“So you're hearing everything?" I asked.
"Oh yeah. You hear everything.”
“You hear stuff like that a lot, though. And you just don't think it's going to happen cause it never has.”
An outside investigation after the murders determined the guards failed to click the padlock in place that secured the main cage door. Ringo says the two men noticed immediately. And a few miles down the road from the prison, he says Rowe took a chance.
“He actually tests Monica. He opens the door and lets it slam back shut. Monica kind of wakes up for a minute and looks around and Rowe says you all right? And he says yeah, I'm good. You all right? And he's like I'm fine.”
Those would be Sgt. Monica's final words. Here's what Ringo says he watched happened next.
“So 3-4 minutes later Monica's back with his head down. Asleep. And Rowe just gathers all of his chains and everything, opens the door and runs in and hits him upside the head.”
From his front-row seat, he watched the two men struggle, with Monica appearing to get the upper hand. But when Billue slammed on the brakes, the pair toppled into the stairwell.
“Dubose walks up into the compartment there and Rowe is able to throw him the gun box. And he just casually opens the gun box, puts the clip in, loads it and walks over there to Monica and fires multiple times.”
And with Monica now dead, he says Dubose turned the 40 caliber Glock on the remaining officer.
“Dubose turns to Sgt. Billue and he tells him, you open them doors. And Sgt. Billue just looks up at him and says I can't do that. And he shoots him twice.”
A law enforcement source familiar with the investigation said it's impossible to tell on the security video whether Sgt. Billue said anything before he was shot.
Ringo says he watched the pair kick out a window and within seconds steal a car at gunpoint that just happened to be passing by. The remaining inmates would sit on that bus in the middle of Highway 16 for nearly a half hour -- two dead officers inside -- before someone driving by called authorities.
The first to arrive – Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills. Ringo says he forced the bus door open, stepped around the bodies and addressed the inmates.
“We got to find out where they're going," Ringo says the sheriff asked the inmates in a surprisingly calm voice. "Do ya'll have any idea where they're going? (And) we're like – we're just as surprised as you are at this moment. Yeah, we heard, but we didn't expect.”
In fact, no one on the bus even knew the killers' real names. It would take three days of frantic searching before the pair turned up in Tennessee, ultimately surrendering without firing a shot.
They each face the death penalty. Both have pled not guilty. In the last hearing, prosecutors played a tape of Dubose confessing to the murders.
Were any of the inmates pulling for Rowe and Dubose to get away?
"I absolutely wasn't," answered Ringo. "I hope nobody else was. Not everybody's a bad person just because they're in prison.”
Expect him to be a key witness should the case ever go to trial. He believes the two men deserve the death penalty.
The Department of Corrections now requires a chase car follow every prison transport bus. They've added more cameras on each bus and padlocks that require a key be removed to make sure they are properly locked.
In June, two weeks after the one-year anniversary of the murders, Ringo made parole. The convicted burglar hopes to never see the inside of a prison again.
And on his Greyhound bus ride home from the Jackson Diagnostic Center, he made sure to sit in the very last row.