In 40 years as a WBAL-TV news photographer, James “Mac” Finney has done it all.
There was the day he filmed both Margaret Thatcher and Hulk Hogan. One time his camera was nearly snatched away by a bank president at the center of a scandal.
But even the longest-working photographer at WBAL still finds himself surprised on the job. While covering Wednesday’s police manhunt in Jessup, Finney glanced up and spotted the escaped inmate.
“There he was walking across a grassy area that a few hours before was crawling with police,” Finney said.
Authorities spent hours searching for inmate Randy James Morris. The 38-year-old was serving 10 years in prison for burglary, but he escaped from a van Wednesday morning near Dorsey Run Road and Route 32. Morris ditched his prison jumpsuit and made off. He was last seen wearing a white T-shirt and gym shorts.
Maryland state troopers, police search dogs and officers from Anne Arundel and Howard counties converged on the scene. The news crews arrived, too. Morris could be dangerous, authorities warned.
The search dragged on for eight hours. Finney spent much of the time with WBAL reporter Kate Amara. He filmed the officers, and the two journalists looked for neighbors to interview. The day was hot, so they pulled into a shady parking garage to finish edits before the 5 p.m. newscast.
Finney was sitting in the car when he happened to notice a man walk in the garage in a white T-shirt and gym shorts. The man’s clothes were dirty, as if he had been hiding in brush. Finney recognized Morris from the prison booking photos police had circulated throughout the day.
Finney stepped out of the car, knocked on the window of Amara’s car, then started to follow the fugitive. He was close enough to call out.
“I said, ‘Are you Randy Morris?’” Finney said. “He spun around, looked at me and said, ‘No, I’m Randy James or James Morris,’ something like that.”
Finney stayed calm. He had left his camera in the car, but he pulled out his cellphone and dialed 911. Now, Amara was following them, too. While Finney spoke to the 911 operator, he followed Morris through the lower level of the garage.
“He didn’t try to evade me until he realized I was on the phone,” Finney said.
That’s when Morris ran out of the garage and across railroad tracks. Amara kept watch and relayed Morris’ movements to Finney, who told the 911 operator. Morris ran toward a construction site and workers shouted, too. Soon, police were everywhere.
Finney didn’t see the arrest. He was already back in the car to finish his edits and make his deadline. The WBAL helicopter filmed officers leading a handcuffed Morris out of the woods.
“This is the value of being experienced in our profession,” Amara said of her reporting partner. “He’s done this for so long, and he has this really calm demeanor and confidence. ... I’m really proud of him.”
Finney returned to the WBAL newsroom and was greeted with applause. One day later, he chuckled at it all, particularly at his firm words before he hung up the call.
“I respectfully said to the 911 operator, ‘I got to go file my story.’”