It's been freezing almost everywhere this week, but it got so cold in Kentucky that an escaped inmate asked to be taken back to prison.
The strange tale began Monday morning, when Maurice King, the 61-year-old manager of the Sunset Motel in Lexington, heard a knock on the door at the motel.
Standing outside, in a wind chill of about 18 degrees below zero, was Robert Vick, 42, wearing a pair of ripped-up jeans and a khaki prison jumpsuit. Authorities said he'd escaped the Blackburn Correctional Complex about three miles away just the night before.
"I answered the door, and he said, 'Call the law on me,' and I looked at him kinda silly, and he said, 'Well, I’m the one who escaped from Blackburn,' " King told The Times. "He said, 'I’ve got to turn myself in, I’m froze to death.' He was just shaking and everything.”
In a statement provided to The Times, prison officials said Vick had "walked away" from the minimum-security prison where he was serving a six-year sentence for burglary and criminal possession of a forged document.
It wasn't immediately clear why he decided to escape; he was eligible for parole in March. Now, standing on King's doorstep, all he wanted was to go back to prison.
“He was very polite; he was anxious to get back," said King, who struck up a conversation with Vick while he called the police, at one point offering him a glass of water and inviting him into the motel's office to warm up.
King said Vick told him that he had slept in an abandoned house up the road, normally used for migrant farmers, where he found a shirt and the ripped jeans.
Unfortunately for Vick, the same night that he escaped, a historic cold front, generated by the so-called polar vortex, began to fall over Kentucky; according to the National Weather Service, the temperature was 44 degrees around the time Vick escaped, and dropped to almost zero by the next morning.
"He had no heat at all," King told The Times. "He told me he took his socks off because they were wet, and when he got up that morning, they were froze solid. He went ahead and put them back on and started to head this way."
But getting officials to believe Vick was giving himself up was another matter.
"The first time I called, I don’t think the dispatcher believed me," King said. When he called a second time and reached a second dispatcher, she also sounded skeptical, King said. "She asked me to put him on the phone. He told her who he was, and gave her his prison number, and that’s when the cops showed up."
Sherelle Roberts, spokeswoman for the Lexington Division of Police, told The Times that every police agency in central Kentucky had been on the lookout for Vick after his escape.
When Lexington police showed up at the hotel, she said, “it was evident that he was having some medical issues related to cold exposure."
Local firefighters treated Vick for exposure, Roberts said, before turning him over to the state police, who are investigating the escape.
“He was a real good guy," King, the motel manager, said of Vick. "He was calm and collected. He just froze. He was ready to go back.”