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Seven Hawaii hospital workers on leave without pay after psychiatric patient escapes

sudok1/iStock/Thinkstock
sudok1/iStock/Thinkstock

(HONOLULU) — Seven hospital workers in Hawaii have been relieved of their duties without pay after an “extremely dangerous” psychiatric patient escaped from there and boarded a flight to California, officials said.

The Hawaii State Hospital employees were placed on off-duty status without pay while officials investigate how the patient, Randall Saito, managed to break free from the mental health facility on Oahu and travel some 2,350 miles on Sunday. Saito was captured in northern California three days later.

“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,” the Hawaii State Department of Health, which runs the hospital, said in a statement Wednesday. “The department is committed to a thorough investigation, evaluation and correction of our hospital protocols and procedures to prevent this type of incident from reoccurring.”

Meanwhile, all unescorted on-campus and off-campus privileges at Hawaii State Hospital have been stopped and visits to Kaneohe Clubhouse community center have been suspended, the health department said.

Hospital staff have also been retrained on the accountability process, security personnel have been reassigned and extra security fencing is being obtained, the department said.

Hawaii Department of Health Director Dr. Ginny Pressler said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon that Saito’s escape was a “result of a major breakdown” in staff protocols, procedures and guidelines at the hospital. An initial internal investigation revealed that staff “may have inadvertently or purposely neglected” to notify supervisors of the incident, Pressler added.

In 1981, Saito was committed to the Hawaii State Hospital just outside Honolulu in Kaneohe after being acquitted of first-degree murder by reason of insanity. He walked out of the psychiatric hospital Sunday morning and chartered a plane to Maui. He boarded another plane from there, according to the Honolulu Police Department.

While on the loose, Saito was considered “extremely dangerous and should not be approached,” police warned.

Saito arrived in San Jose, California, on Sunday night. He was arrested in Stockton on Wednesday morning at about 10:30 a.m. PT “as the result of a tip received from an alert taxi cab driver,” the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office said.

Saito was still in California on Wednesday afternoon awaiting positive fingerprint identification, according to Hawaii Gov. David Ige. The patient had been missing for more than 10 hours by the time hospital staff alerted authorities, 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,” Ige said at a press conference Wednesday. “Authorities and the public should have been notified much, much sooner.”

Authorities have evidence that Saito’s escape was “premeditated,” “intentional” and “planned,” said Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin.

“This was something that was not done by someone who was suffering from any sort of mental defect or disability,” Chin said. “We intend to press that argument with the court when he was flown back.”

Saito is awaiting an extradition hearing in California, and his bail will be set at $500,000, according to Chin. If he posts bail, then he will be placed back in the custody of the Hawaii State Hospital, Chin said.

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