Baby-killer who escaped prison no longer in Barnegat but still at large, cops say
BARNEGAT — The manhunt continues for a convict who escaped from a South Jersey prison this week, but officials say they believe the fugitive is no longer in the township.
"He is still wanted, he is still at large," Barnegat Mayor John Novak said Thursday afternoon.
Authorities did not say exactly where they believe the escapee might be at this point.
Local police say they have now turned over command of the investigation to the state Department of Corrections, but the mayor was quick to point out that local police are prepared to take the lead again, if information surfaces that Arthur Buckel, an escapee from the Bayside State Prison’s Ancora unit in Hammonton, is back in the vicinity.
"We are poised, we are ready to remobilize should any information be developed," Novak said.
The mayor said residents should continue the practice of "if you see something, say something." Authorities say they will pursue all leads that might help them locate Buckel.
In the meantime, police will pull back some of the additional units that have been out in force since the manhunt began.
The Barnegat Police Department will continue to have officers stationed in each of the township's schools until Buckel is captured.
The mayor said the search for the fugitive has been costly for the township, and thanked the Ocean County Sheriff's Department for providing manpower and other "assets" during the investigation.
"A tremendous amount of resources have been allocated to this endeavor," Ryan said, though he did not have specific details as to the exact amount of money that the municipality spent in resources and overtime in the past week.
According to the mayor, residents are feeling a sense of relief now that the fugitive has apparently moved away from the township. He said this type of activity and heavy police presence is unusual for the shore town.
“This is not normal for Barnegat. We want to get back to normal so yes…it’s a relief," Ryan told reporters.
According to the Department of Corrections, Buckel was missing from a head count of inmates on Tuesday. He was less than three weeks from being eligible for parole, the NJDOC said.
The search began on Wednesday when Buckel was was spotted in a stolen 2015 Chevrolet Silverado pickup in the parking lot of the CVS on West Bay Avenue Wednesday morning. He was also captured on surveillance video. The sighting triggered a “shelter in place” order in Barnegat schools, after which time students were dismissed.
Police patrols and K9 teams fanned out along the Garden State Parkway and other probable escape routes in the area, where Buckel is believed to have family members. Police say the ongoing rain and hail presented a challenge during the manhunt.
In 1996, Buckel pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter for slapping his girlfriend’s baby to death. More recently, Buckel’s record includes burglary, possession and aggravated assault charges that date back to 2014.
He is described as a white male with brown hair and blue eyes, standing 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighing 180 pounds.
Tom Mongelli and Vin Ebenau contributed to this report.
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.