State hospital escapee arrested in California; officials admit ‘major breakdown’ in protocol

Hawaii State Hospital escapee Randall Saito has been arrested in Stockton, Calif.

Deputies with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office arrested the 59-year-old at around 8:30 a.m. HST, hours after the Hawaii Attorney General’s office charged Saito with felony escape and issued a $500,000 bench warrant for his arrest.

San Joaquin authorities say they received a tip from an alert taxi cab driver. Saito was arrested in the area of Highway 99 and Waterloo Road.

The driver wanted to remain anonymous, but told KRON4, our sister station in San Francisco, “I feel very blessed that I’m alive, because who knows what could have happened.”

The driver said she picked Saito up Monday and drove him to Walmart so he could buy a new phone.

“I asked him if he was from Stockton, and he said no, he was from Hawaii, and that he had took a plane to San Jose and caught a cab here to Stockton,” the driver said.

After the driver got off work, “I was laying in bed and I was listening to the news and I heard, ‘This man from Hawaii escaped. We believe, he went to San Jose and we believe he might be in Stockton.’ And I looked up and I was like, whoa, he was in my cab yesterday.”

That’s when she alerted authorities. “He was like, ‘I’m trying to find a cheap car or ride maybe to the state line,’ you know, and he goes, ‘maybe Tahoe or Nevada,’” she said.

On Wednesday morning, a witness told KRON4 he saw a different cab driver pull up to get gas outside Ernie’s Liquor and Grocery Store. As he was filling up his tank, multiple sheriffs and unmarked vehicles pulled up and surrounded the cab with Saito still sitting inside.

After Saito’s arrest, the witness says the cab driver appeared visibly shaken and mentioned he was on his way to Reno.

Saito will next face a hearing in California to be extradited back to Hawaii.

Related Coverage: What will happen to state hospital escapee when he returns to Hawaii?

San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office on Facebook: “SJSO NEWS: San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Deputies arrested Randall Saito, the Hawaii State Hospital escapee, at approximately 10:30 this morning, November 15, 2017. The arrest was made as the result of a tip received from an alert taxi cab driver. Saito was arrested in the area of Highway 99 and Waterloo Road in Stockton.”

Authorities say Saito left Hawaii State Hospital on Oahu at around 9 a.m. Sunday.

He used a cell phone to call Charley’s Taxi, which picked him up at Kaneohe District Park and took him to an area off Lagoon Drive near Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

According to the Honolulu Police Department, Saito then boarded a charter plane to Kahului.

Royal Pacific Air confirmed the flight in a statement Wednesday:

“We were dismayed to learn that Hawaii State Hospital escapee Randall Saito used an alias to charter a flight on one of our planes from Honolulu to Maui on Sunday. We followed all applicable security procedures and are fully cooperating with law enforcement to support their efforts to find him.”

After reviewing video footage from Kahului Airport, detectives with the Maui Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division determined that Saito then boarded a flight for California.

Honolulu police say he landed in San Jose at around 5:30 p.m. Hawaii time Sunday, three hours before the public was even notified he was missing.

Related Coverage: Police confirm Hawaii State Hospital escapee flew to Maui, then to San Jose

Provided by San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office

Gov. David Ige called the lapse “totally unacceptable.” Officials pledged “immediate action” following Saito’s arrest.

Hawaii Department of Health director Dr. Virginia Pressler acknowledged Wednesday that “this incident was a result of major breakdown in our Hawaii State Hospital staff protocols, procedures, and guidelines. … Our internal investigation at this time reveals that staff may have inadvertently or purposefully neglected proper notification of supervisors and proper supervision of the patient as required by hospital protocols.”

Seven Hawaii State Hospital employees were placed on off-duty status without pay. The hospital employees are being notified and will be relieved of their duties for 30 days as the internal investigation continues.

As the investigation progresses, more employees may be identified and placed on off-duty status, officials say.

Ige said, “We’ve suspended visits to the (Koolau Clubhouse, a rehabilitational facility in Kaneohe that helps patients reintegrate to society). All staff are being retrained on accountability process. Security staff have been reassigned to the area of the escape. Procurement of additional fencing and other physical facilities are in process. Patient privileges are all being reviewed and assured that they are at the appropriate levels and public visitation policies will also be reviewed.”

Charley’s Taxi surveillance footage shows Saito with cash, a cell phone, and a backpack. The state could not answer how he got hold of those items, but admitted Saito used an ID to get to California.

How did he get an ID?

We spoke with an employee, who said Saito hadn’t had a visitor in at least a decade, until recently. Saito had two visitors in the last few weeks.

Still, the health department admits it’s trying to piece the puzzle together.

“There were several shifts of individuals who apparently were not doing their job. This was clearly… We didn’t follow appropriate protocols.” — Dr. Virginia Pressler

Ige directed Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin to investigate the incident and “take appropriate actions.”

“His escape should never have happened,” Ige said. “I am deeply concerned that such a dangerous person was able to escape from the Hawaii State Hospital and remain undetected for such a long period of time.”

“I can say this. I think it’s pretty clear based upon our filing of these charges that this was premeditated. It was intentional. It was planned,” Chin said. “This is something that was not done by somebody who was suffering any sort of mental defect or disability.”

A health department spokeswoman said, “Immediately after the escape of Randall Saito, the Hawaii State Hospital administration stopped all unescorted off-campus and on-campus privileges of patients. At this time, all patients are escorted by hospital staff to appointments off-campus and on-campus. There are no unescorted privileges at this time. The hospital is reviewing and evaluating all levels of patient privileges.”

“Are you confident that after an incident like this, that we won’t have this problem again?” KHON2 asked.

“I don’t know if there are any mental health hospitals that have not had escapes. We do everything we can to protect the safety of the public and the patients and the staff,” Pressler replied. “Certainly there will be further changes we will make. This is the first time that I’ve been aware of a situation that there were several shifts of individuals who apparently were not doing their job.”

State lawmakers who represent the area say more should be done.

“We demand that nothing less than the Department of Health really coming forward with what exactly is going to be the response and the plan of action. What are they specifically going to do in terms of making sure this does not happen again?” said Sen. Jill Tokuda, D, Kaneohe, Kailua, Heeia, Ahuimanu. “We’ve seen the task force. We’ve seen investigations. We’ve seen so much of this before. What is really going to happen, and we want to see this happen right now. It’s time for action and not just talk, not just more investigations.”

Lawmakers say the legislature approved some $200 million in funding for the state hospital in the past 10 years, and an additional $1.7 million strictly to improve security two years ago.

“We have been helpful. We have been there. We have appropriated. We have been supportive. We have done the site visits. Now it’s time for some real action and some real accountability, and that’s what we’re asking for,” Tokuda said. “(Health officials are) talking about privacy, talking about least restrictive environments. You can say these words, but it’s not an excuse for you to allow these things to continue to happen, and to allow the public to just accept these things to continue to happen.”

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