Mother worried about her son at jail, had complained about gas leak earlier

Through tears and sobs, Sheila Travis accused Escambia County jail corrections officers of ignoring inmates’ complaints about the smell of gas Wednesday.

Travis’ oldest son, 24-year-old Kelvin Johnson, called her during the day to say he smelled gas all day and was feeling light headed but jail officials refused to move him and others who complained. The inmates were told to go lie down, Travis reported.

At 11 p.m. Wednesday night a gas explosion at the jail killed two inmates and injured about 150 others, according to official reports. Three inmates have not been accounted for.

“They didn’t do anything,” a crying Travis said of the correction officers. “They didn’t move them. My son was in there on the floor that exploded. My son would have called me by now. I’ve not heard one thing. If they had not ignored it, we wouldn’t be in this situation right now.”

Travis said she arrived at the jail shortly after the explosion and remained there until 5 a.m. Thursday. She disputed the jail’s numbers of dead people from the blast.

“I saw more than one body bag. I saw more than two body bags. I counted with my own eyes three body bags,” she said.

Travis, who is a bondsman with clients in the jail, saw many other inmates escape, either running out the front door or jumping off the buses there to transport them to another jail and running away. Kelvin Johson was on the third floor. The second and third floors collapsed on the first floor, witnesses have said.

“They were fighting their way out,” Travis said. “You think they’re going to wait for a CO to escort them? There’s no way they can account for every inmate. A lot just took off running. I saw this with my own eyes. They did not catch one of them.”

Meanwhile, Travis said she just wants to know where her son is and that he’s OK. She says public officials have been unhelpful.

“It’s not fair that the county has not told us where our kids are and where our friends are,” she said.