Police and federal agents scoured Northern California on Wednesday for a “violent psychopath” accused of murder who escaped a Hawaiian psychiatric hospital this week.
Randall Saito, 59, was acquitted of a gruesome 1979 murder by reason of insanity and committed to Hawaii State Hospital. Police said he escaped from the facility Sunday morning, hopped on a charter plane to Maui and then boarded a Hawaii Airlines flight to San Jose, Calif.
Honolulu police said Saito is considered extremely dangerous and should not be approached.
The FBI and U.S. Marshals Service have reviewed security footage from San Jose International Airport in connection with the manhunt, said Jon Vaden, an airport spokesman. He said police have not advised him of any threats at the facility.
Saito was committed to the hospital outside Honolulu in 1981, two years after he was acquitted in the killing of Sandra Yamashiro. Saito randomly chose the victim, shot her in the face and fatally stabbed her, authorities said. Her body was later found in her car at the mall.
“He is a very dangerous individual,” said Wayne Tashima, a Honolulu prosecutor who argued in 2015 against Saito receiving passes to leave the hospital grounds without an escort.
Saito left the state hospital outside Honolulu at 10 a.m. Sunday and didn’t return, police said. Hospital staff called 911 to report his disappearance shortly after 7:30 p.m. — two hours after he landed in San Jose, police said. An all-points bulletin was issued an hour later.
It was not immediately clear under what circumstances Saito left the facility in Kaneohe, a Honolulu suburb. Hawaii State Hospital Administrator William May said officials are fully cooperating with law enforcement and appropriate steps would be taken if Saito received help from someone inside the facility.
Saito has repeatedly attempted to get released from the state hospital, a move vehemently opposed by prosecutors.
In 2002, prosecutors questioned why Saito was granted unescorted leave from the facility, according to Hawaii News Now. "He is a psychopathic predator whose mental condition continues to represent a serious danger to the community," deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jeffrey Albert said at the time.
In 1993, a court denied Saito’s request for conditional release, saying he continued to suffer from sexual sadism and necrophilia.
The state Department of Health operates the hospital, which houses over 300 patients in Kaneohe. The department said it’s investigating the escape.
“There is a serious lack of information for the public,” said Nicholas Iwamoto, who was stabbed 18 times on a popular Hawaii hiking trail in 2009. His attacker was found legally insane and sent to Hawaii State Hospital. He was later granted conditional release to attend community college, a decision Iwamoto wasn’t notified about.
“Public safety has certainly been compromised,” Iwamoto said. “It’s extremely alarming. But nothing from the state surprises me anymore.”
Irving Tam, who has lived near the hospital in Kaneohe for about 30 years and was walking by the facility Tuesday, said he worries about hospital patients getting out in his neighborhood.
“When they do escape, especially someone with this kind of a record, there is a high degree of concern, he could be violent and who knows,” Tam said. “That’s why I have a gun, for this very reason. Hopefully I never use it.”
Tam said he heard about the escape from a neighbor, not the police, hospital or the media, and that patients have gotten out several times in the past.
“This is not totally uncommon, we have had similar incidents in the past, and fortunately nothing has ever happened,” Tam said.
Saito was the impetus for a rule change in 2003, when the state attorney general’s office decided mental patients committed to Hawaii State Hospital have no legal right to conjugal visits.
The issue came to light when the hospital administrator learned Saito had been escorted home for weekend conjugal visits over two years. The administrator blocked visits away from the facility and on its grounds.
Dangerous psychiatric patients have escaped recently from other U.S. facilities, most recently last year, when a man accused of torturing a woman to death broke out of Washington state’s largest mental hospital.
Anyone who sees Saito is asked to call 911, Honolulu CrimeStoppers at (808) 955-8300, or the Honolulu Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division at (808) 723-3609.
Contributing: The Associated Press