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Victim's son: 'Shawshank' fugitive should be in prison

Frank Freshwaters found in Melbourne after 56 years on lam

Local 6 News at 7:00p
Local 6 News at 7:00p

MELBOURNE, Fla. – Frank Freshwaters, the Ohio prison escapee caught in Brevard after nearly 56 years, should serve more time behind bars, says the son of the man killed by Freshwaters in an 1957 traffic accident.

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"I talked to my mom about it. … She's 81, and she told me to tell everyone to 'let it be.' So I have mixed feelings about it. A lot of mixed feelings," 61-year-old Richard Flynt told Local 6 News partner Florida Today.  He was 3 when his father, Eugene Flynt, was hit by a speeding car driven by Freshwaters, who was then 21.

"My mom had three of us. He was young and he made a mistake. But if he had stayed and did his time, if he had just kept himself clean, he could have a halfway-normal life by now," the 61-year-old New Canton, Ohio, man said.

The view is one side of the raw emotions stirred to life following Monday's arrest of 79-year-old Freshwaters in Melbourne on charges that he escaped a prison work camp in 1959. He was charged with violating probation in the case after authorities said he failed to pay monthly restitution to Flynt's widow -- about $5 a month for each of her three children.

Tuesday, the pony-tailed man known to friends as William Cox or "Grandpa Bill," waived extradition, meaning he will be returned to Ohio to face escape charges.

Freshwaters, 79, now is held at the Brevard County Jail Complex. "Usually, the requesting state is given 10 business days to pick up the inmate," Assistant State Attorney Michael Hunt said.

A local hearing is also scheduled for May 19, "just in case the state does not pick him up. That's so he won't be sitting there indefinitely without any action," Hunt said.

Ohio authorities said Freshwaters was driving in Akron when he struck and killed 24-year-old Eugene Flynt on July 3, 1957. Documents released by the federal marshal's office show that Freshwaters was traveling more than 50 mph in a 35 mph zone when he struck Flynt.

He pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was given five years of probation with a suspended sentence of one to 20 years, records show. In February 1959, Freshwaters -- then married -- was charged with violating his probation and sent to the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, the same prison highlighted in the 1994 movie "Shawshank Redemption."

Freshwaters apparently gained the trust of prison officials as a model inmate and was sent to the Sandusky Honor Farm, where he escaped on Sept. 30, 1959.

Brevard County sheriff's agents turned up at the door of Freshwaters' mobile home and took him into custody after showing him an old black and white mugshot of himself as a young inmate at the Ohio Reformatory. He quickly confessed, authorities said.

"Our investigators pieced a lot of things together. He left a string of clues over the years," said U.S. Marshal Peter Elliot, whose jurisdiction is northern Ohio.

Freshwaters spent time as a truck driver, making friends and moving to a mobile home amid an isolated patch of brush west of Melbourne.

Photos from recent years show Freshwaters playing guitar, laughing and joking with friends at a 2012 wedding and having Christmas dinner.

Richard Flynt says the case is complicated but feels justice must be done.

"The more I talk about it, it's really kind of complicated. He's an old man, but I believe he should sit his butt in jail. He lived his life, but my dad didn't get that chance. He was killed in front of out house," Flynt said of his father, who served in the U.S. Army. "I was young. My mom later remarried and had three more children. (The accident) was something that we just never talked about. But I talked about it yesterday," he said.

Today, Flynt suffers from a bone disease that leaves him mostly homebound. "I do miss my father. … I just never got a chance to really know him."

The people who knew him remained stunned at the revelation of Freshwater's past as a fugitive from justice.

They talked of a man who kept to himself, lived month-to-month on his Social Security checks and shared few details about the past. He did mention that he had a wife who died of cancer in the 1990s.

The land his mobile home sits on belongs to the parents of state Sen. Thad Altman, who said Freshwaters was "trustworthy."

They told Florida Today that the Ohio man watched over the land as a caretaker for 20 years.

Shirl Cheetham met Freshwaters nearly 15 years ago and praised him as a trusted friend.

"I want him to know we are here to support him any way we can," said Shirl Cheetham, who met the man she knew as William Cox nearly 15 years ago. He was even the best man at her wedding, she said.

Another friend, Michelle Burcik, of Palm Bay, also questioned the state of Ohio's pursuit of a man after nearly 60 years.

"I think it's a bunch of crap," Burcik said. "He's one of the sweetest people I know. I've been through a lot personally, and he's always been there for me."

"He kept upbeat. That's the way old man Bill is. I never would have guessed that any of this was going on," she said.