HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Why did it take so long for State Hospital staff to report Randall Saito's escape Sunday?
Officials refused to answer that question Tuesday, saying that privacy laws and an ongoing investigation preclude them from going into details.
But that's not stopping lawmakers from raising the issue.
They want to know why Saito, an admitted killer, was able to escape in the first place — and why authorities didn't get notified earlier.
Saito walked away from the State Hospital in Kaneohe on Sunday morning, got into a waiting cab at Kaneohe Community Park and boarded a charter plane to Maui. Then Saito was able to board another plane, a Hawaiian Airlines flight to San Jose, Calif. That flight landed about 5:30 p.m. Sunday Hawaii time.
The state Health Department didn't report his escape to authorities until about that time, and authorities put out an alert to the community about 8:20 p.m.
"Certainly, the Department of Health is going to have to come forward to explain this particular situation be able identify, specifically, where the failures were and reassure with the public in no uncertain terms that this will not happen again," said state Sen. Will Espero.
But officials said they couldn't go into details, or offer any excuses about the apparent lapses in protocol.
"Like I said, I'm not going to get into the details of it," said William May, Hawaii State Hospital administrator, at a news conference. "I'm sorry. At this point, I just can't, given the ongoing criminal investigation."
"It's understandable there's a lot of interest in this area and we're gathering information and we need complete information before we're willing to share," echoed Dr. Mark Fridovich, the Chief of the Adult Mental Health Division.
May did acknowledge that the timeline of events in the escape were very concerning, and also said the state has worked in recent years to bolster security at the Hawaii State Hospital, the only publicly-run psychiatric facility in the islands for forensic patients.
"When things like this happen, we do look, we make changes that we can," May said.
Gov. David Ige, meanwhile, said Saito's escape underscores the need for a new state hospital for violent psychiatric patients.
"That facility was not designed for the purpose that it is currently being used," he said. "We are working to construct a new facility as quickly as we can. And we think that will improve the safety of our communities at the same time it will improve the services that are provided."
The state wants to build a new, 150-bed long-term care facility on its current campus in Kaneohe.