‘I wish I would’ve never went:’ Ohio escapee speaks out for first time since manhunt

James Lee and Bradley Gillespie escaped back in May from a prison in Ohio
‘I wish I would’ve never went:’ Ohio escapee speaks out for first time since manhunt
Published: Aug. 29, 2023 at 6:46 PM CDT
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HENDERSON, Ky. (WFIE) - The man who survived the days-long manhunt in Henderson back in May is speaking out.

James Lee, currently being held at the Henderson County Detention Center, told 14 News his choice to escape was due to alleged abuse he faced at Allen-Oakwood Correctional Facility.

“It was hard, you know what I mean,” Lee said. “To make the choice to go.”

[PREVIOUS: Escaped Ohio inmate set to appear in Henderson court]

It put a nation on notice, and multiple cities on lockdown. A daring escape by two Ohio prisoners, Lee and Bradley Gillespie, led to a multi-day, nationwide manhunt.

“Now I wish I would’ve never went,” Lee said. “I wish I would’ve tried to do something different.”

Lee says the pair met during previous prison stints in Ohio. While at Allen-Oakwood Correctional Facility, Lee was in for burglary and breaking and entering, while Gillespie was in for a double-murder.

“We worked in the kitchen together,” Lee said. “He made his choice and I made my choice.”

When asked if the escape was planned beyond the trash chute they escaped in, Lee says they never thought they’d get that far.

“It was just get as far as we could, lay low for a while,” Lee said.

The pair would get a significant head start, as they wouldn’t be discovered missing for nearly 24 hours. Officials say both Lee and Gillespie were missing for over half a dozen head counts before the prison took notice.

“There should’ve never been an open dumpster that was in the institution,” Lee said.

While on the run, Lee says the pair stayed in the countryside for a bit, then started to hit the highways.

Their ride to freedom, however, came to a screeching halt in Henderson. Police matched the stolen car plate number to the number given by federal law enforcement.

“Once we’d seen one car and we’d seen a couple more cars, we knew it was coming to an end,” Lee said. “We wasn’t supposed to go back you know, back to prison. It was either they kill us or we kill them.”

A brief car chase led to the pair crashing on Camaro Court in Henderson - 350 miles from where they were last seen. Moments before the crash - Lee said they knew their run, and friendship, had come to an end.

“He [Bradley] said you take care of yourself and I said the same,” Lee recalled. “Said we’d probably never see each other again.”

The pair took off following the crash, but Lee would eventually give up after leaping several fences.

“I was gonna turn on them, act like I had a gun so they’d shoot me, but I never did,” Lee said. “Things kick back in your mind, you think about your family, everyone would be hurt because of something that I did.”

Five days following the crash, authorities would find Gillespie’s body in the Ohio River.

“It hit me kind of hard when I learned that he’d passed away,” Lee said. “I feel for his family, his daughter. He did say he wished he could’ve been at his daughter’s wedding.”

Lee remembers Gillespie in a different light than what his charges lend to portray.

“He had a big heart, he’d help you out if he could,” Lee said.

Lee says he’s glad he’s alive, and glad he was caught, and all he wants to do is get back home.

“To move on,” Lee said. “Get back to Ohio and start serving my time in drop down levels. Hopefully get into these programs and make something of myself.”

Lee says he’s apologetic towards his family for what he’s done to land him where he is now.

His next court appearance is set for October 9.