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Cabdriver tells of role in finding fugitives

Two tied to escape arrested after ride

NEWPORT, Ky. -- Mike Wagers was his usual chatty self during the cab ride of almost two hours. He passed the time talking about ''nonsensical things" with his passengers, and even called a friend and had him check the Internet for a cheap motel for the couple.

In fact, Wagers said yesterday, the only time he wondered about the two was when they told him they were headed to an Amway convention.

''Amway people are all about Amway, and when they didn't try any conversation further about it, that's when I pretty much thought, 'Well, they're not with Amway; they're doing something else,' " said Wagers, who is 33.

Alerted later by a friend, Wagers made the connection: His passengers, Jennifer and George Hyatte, were on the run. They had been sought for allegedly killing a prison guard during a courthouse escape in Tennessee two days earlier.

Wagers called authorities; they arrested the Hyattes at their Ohio motel without a struggle. The friend who called Wagers knew that a stolen van linked to the fugitives had been found near where the cabdriver had picked them up.

An extradition hearing is scheduled for today in Columbus. The two are expected to be returned to Tennessee on warrants for first-degree murder in the death of Wayne ''Cotton" Morgan, 56, authorities said.

Jennifer Hyatte is accused of ambushing Morgan and another guard on Tuesday as they were leading her husband, a convicted robber, from a hearing.

They fled and wound up in Erlanger, Ky., where Wagers picked them up. The couple gave Wagers two $100 bills for the $185 fare.

''In the cab business, technically that might've been a little bit light on the tip, but when you're getting a $185 cash trip, when they only throw in another $15, you're not going to think anything bad. You're going to say you appreciate it and you're going to go on your way," Wagers said.

He also didn't think about taking a couple 115 miles from Kentucky into Ohio; airline passengers with delayed flights sometimes do that.

''I didn't feel uncomfortable," Wagers said. ''I had been paid, so my guard was really down."

Wagers said he did not recognize the pair or notice a leg wound that police said Jennifer Hyatte had suffered in the shootings. She had colored her hair black from light brown, and she explained her awkward movements by saying she had been ''banged around in a car wreck a little bit," he said.

Kundan Desai, manager of the America's Best Value Inn in Columbus, said the couple stayed in the cab while Wagers checked them in. He said the couple had him handle the check-in, saying they had lost their ID.

Tipped by Wagers, officers surrounded the couple's room late Wednesday and ordered the pair outside.

In Tennessee, a partner of Morgan's, Larry Harris, said Morgan ''didn't have a chance" when he was gunned down.

''It was just a cold-blooded, 'Shoot him.' And pow," Harris said in a telephone interview.

Harris said transportation guards had received three large vests four or five years ago that are impossibly bulky. They were directed to wear them whenever they felt at risk. But Harris said the vests were so long that they cut into his neck when he drives and that he cannot buckle his pants across them.

''If he'd had a vest, she could have shot him in the head just as easy," Harris said.

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