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The roof of the Salt Lake County Jail was not an oft-visited place before two teens used it to pass tools to would-be escapees this month.

Its height and slick accessways kept at least the curious away.But a duo of determined juveniles found their way on top of the two-story structure and nearly succeeded in helping a couple of the jail's most violent inmates break out.

Now the prisoners, David Robert Jolivet and Billy Joe Wilson, face possible federal charges for attempted escape that could tack up to five years onto their already-lengthy sentences. The teens have been referred to juvenile court and could also be charged with federal crimes.

Jail officers discovered a 4-inch-wide hole in the concrete roof of a cell on Dec. 3. Hunkered in a corner not regularly observed by guards, the inmates used a piece of scrap metal to hack the hole.

The two teens, friends of Wilson, then passed a hacksaw and screwdriver through the opening. Sheriff's spokesman Rod Norton said the inmates still had several more hours of work before they could have slipped through an opening.

But the attempt rang loud bells in law enforcement circles and gave Sheriff Aaron Kennard more weight to his pleas for a new metropolitan jail.

"We're constantly facing problems because the jail is so antiquated. It's the way it's built, how prisoners are housed and a host of other things. We're doing the best we can," said spokesman Jim Potter. "This just underscores, again, how badly we need a new metro jail."

Had Jolivet and Wilson escaped, the public would have had to worry about the whereabouts of a convicted rapist, riot instigator, kidnapper and a man charged with capital murder.

Wilson, 30, made headlines in April of last year after torturing and then plunging a knife into the heart of 84-year-old Lowell Searle.

He was charged with aggravated murder, an offense carrying a potential death penalty. But prosecutors reduced the charge in exchange for a guilty plea; Wilson is in the jail awaiting sentencing.

Jolivet, 35, has been convicted of kidnapping, rape, instigating a 1989 prison riot and more recently, threatening to kill a U.S. magistrate.

Officials are seeking the federal attempted escape charge because it is a felony carrying a five-year sentence. If the two were charged through the state courts, they would have only faced a class C misdemeanor and up to 90 more days in jail.