Kauai police have apprehended a wanted fugitive, ending a nearly eight-hour manhunt.
Police believe Walter Mills, 43, a Kauai Community Correctional Center inmate who escaped from jail Thursday night, was also behind multiple robberies and carjackings Friday.
“The description from our victims was consistent of him. The description matched. Each time he changed into clothing, the same person would appear,” said KPD Assistant Chief Roy Asher.
Mills was reported missing from a headcount at about 8 p.m. Thursday, and officials are still investigating how he escaped. He was serving time on a Theft 2 charge.
Shortly after 8:30 a.m. on Friday, police were notified of a robbery at the First Hawaiian Bank branch on Rice Street in Lihue.
“Once we were able to review the video, we recognized it was him,” Asher said.
Then, at approximately 9:50 a.m., officers were called to Kmart at Kukui Grove Center, after a man reported that a male subject matching Mills’ description brandished a weapon then stole his Ford pickup truck from the parking lot.
A short time later, the suspect was reported to have left the pickup near Sudz Car Wash on Pahee Street and fled the area on foot.
“A Ford Ranger truck pulled in and got in line. When I went to the window to do the transaction, he told me he was there to work for the construction company putting in some solar panels at the car wash right now,” said Billy Parker, Sudz Car Wash supervisor. “I told him he could park on the grass and he pulled over onto the grass. I went to do the next transaction and noticed he got out of the truck and was running toward the Safeway parking lot. He jumped the fence and that’s when I saw the helicopter and I kind of put two-and-two together.”
Police believe that the suspect then entered a county paratransit bus, brandished a weapon, and then instructed the male bus driver to take him to Koloa Road in Koloa. There were no passengers on the bus at the time.
At approximately 10:20 a.m., police were then notified that Lifeway Pharmacy was robbed by a male subject matching Mills’ description.
Police say he stole oxycodone. Lianne Malapit with Lifeway Pharmacy said he didn’t take any money.
“He asked for a certain type of medication, which we hardly carry, so he left pretty quickly,” Malapit said. “He got hardly anything, very little if anything, and he just left really quick.”
According to a preliminary investigation, the suspect then carjacked two additional vehicles and was eventually dropped off at Kalawai Park in Kalaheo, where he fled the vehicle on foot shortly after 11 a.m.
Roughly 30 police officers and Air 1 continued the search until he was captured Friday afternoon.
Shortly after 4 p.m., Mills was detained by police near Kokee Lodge after bystanders reported seeing a man matching his description sitting in a parked vehicle.
“He was found by some bystanders passed out in his vehicle with the gun. They were able to remove the gun without waking him,” Assistant Chief Asher said. “Fortunately, during the whole string of robberies, no one got hurt other than emotionally.”
Police responded to the scene and located Mills. He was taken into custody without incident. Police say tips from the community were a big help to the investigation.
Mills is expected to be charged on multiple offenses relating to escape, robbery, kidnapping, and unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle.
We dug deeper into Mills’ criminal past and found out he was just sentenced earlier this year to five years in prison for stealing a laptop from Walmart in 2015. He was also convicted of robbing a Kapaa pharmacy at gunpoint that same year. He was supposed to be serving his terms concurrently.
We also found that to date, KCCC has only had 14 escapes in the past 36 years. The most recent was back in 2011.
Eight area schools were put on lockdown as the suspect made his way toward the south side of the island: Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School, Eleele Elementary, Kalaheo Elementary, Kekaha Elementary, Koloa Elementary, Waimea Canyon Middle School, Waimea High School, and Wilcox Elementary School.
Parents of students who live in the Kalaheo area were advised to pick students up from school as a safety precaution, so that buses did not have to drop students off unattended at bus stops.
Students at Kalaheo Elementary had to be signed out by their parent and/or legal guardian for the end of school. Parent-teacher conferences were canceled.