Starks, 44, was employed at the Mayfield Consumer Products plant through a work release program when the storm struck Friday night. The twister flattened the facility, trapping 110 workers and killing at least eight.
Madison Leach, the inmate’s attorney, said he was traumatized and physically injured during the collapse. He was treated at a nearby hospital and “walked away” after medical staff cleared him for release, but Leach said she picked him up and escorted him to a jail to turn himself back in.
According to jail records, Starks was serving a sentence for burglary, car theft, and receiving stolen property.
Police: Francisco Starks ‘Escaped’ During Kentucky Tornado
According to Kentucky State Police, Starks was one of hundreds of workers on the overnight shift at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory when 200-mile-per-hour winds tore through the facility, destroying it completely and trapping the employees beneath the rubble.
The 44-year-old was employed at the factory through a work-release program, which allows court-approved inmates who are deemed low-risk to have jobs outside of prison confines.
Starks sustained injuries to his neck, back, and legs and was treated at Jackson Purchase Medical Center. On Sunday, state police said that the inmate “walked away” from the hospital after being released and declared him a wanted fugitive.
But Madison Leach, Stark’s lawyer, told NBC News Monday the 44-year-old “had no idea what to do” after watching his supervisor die in the storm. He didn’t flee custody, the attorney said, but was lost in the chaos that immediately followed the tornado.
“He is traumatized after watching the deputy [his work supervisor] pass away and sustaining injuries,” Leach said. “He didn’t escape jail. He escaped death.”
The lawyer said Starks reached out to her after wandering away from the hospital.
“Due to his injuries, when he reached out to me I picked him [up] and took him to a jail in a nearby county for him to turn himself in,” Leach said.
According to NBC, state police would not confirm whether investigators believed Starks had attempted to escape or had simply been “lost” in the shuffle. Still, records at the Calloway County Jail, where Starks was rebooked, show that the 44-year-old was officially charged with escape in the second degree — a class D felony which can carry up to 5 years in prison, if convicted.
Candle Company is Criticized
At the Mayfield Consumer Products plant where Starks was injured and 8 were killed, workers said they were forced to stay on the job even as the deadly storm approached.
“[Employees] had questioned if they could leave or go home,” an employee told NBC Monday. “‘If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired.’ I heard that with my own ears.”
After the first tornado warning, workers said they were briefly herded into a hallway before being sent back to their positions. According to CNN, the plant was “going 24/7” to meet the anticipated demand from the holiday season.
“The situation was bad,” the worker said. “Everyone was uncomfortable.”
The company said the workers, some of whom spent hours in the factory rubble awaiting rescue teams, were lying to make them look bad.
“It’s absolutely untrue,” said spokesperson Bob Ferguson. “We’ve had a policy in place since Covid began. Employees can leave any time they want to leave and they can come back the next day.”
At the Amazon facility in Edwardsville, Ill., workers were also forbidden from leaving their posts as the storm approached. Six workers died when the tornado reached the warehouse.
More than 100 are still missing and 74 — including 12 children — have been confirmed dead since Saturday’s deadly storm tore through 200 miles of the Bluegrass State. The tragedy may be the most deadly twister in Kentucky history, as it appears on pace to surpass the 1890 tornado, which killed 76.