An alert taxi company employee on Wednesday helped deputy sheriffs in California nab a dangerous Hawaii murderer who had escaped by walking out of the Hawaii State Hospital Sunday — chartering a flight to Maui, and taking a commercial airliner to the mainland before ever being reported missing.
Randall Saito, 59, was arrested without incident in the area of Highway 99 and Waterloo Road in Stockton at about 10:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m. HT) after authorities said the taxi driver recognized him through numerous media reports.
“Credit needs to be given to the cab driver who was alert enough to contact authorities,” Det. Dave Konecny, spokesman for the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
The Stockton Record reported on its website, however, that credit should go to Joe Martin, general manager of the Yellow Cab Co. Martin told the paper that one of his drivers had picked up a man and was inquiring about the cost of a ride to Reno, Nev. “Don’t take this guy anywhere,” Martin said he told the driver, because “I just had this gut feeling” that the man was Saito. Martin then called the sheriff’s office, the Record reported.
Honolulu CrimeStoppers had received a tip that Saito was on his way to visit his brother in Stockton. Deputy sheriffs were on alert after they learned through the media that Saito had boarded a flight to California. “As such, we were on extra edge and looking for this guy,” Konecny said.
Saito was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity in 1981 in the death of 29-year-old Sandra Yama- shiro, who he shot with a pellet gun in an Ala Moana Center parking lot before repeatedly stabbing her. Experts diagnosed him with sexual sadism and necrophilia. Saito has been committed to the hospital since.
Hawaii State Attorney General Douglas Chin said Saito will face an extradition hearing in San Joaquin County “within days.” Once he’s back in Hawaii, Chin said his office plans to make a case before a judge that Saito is not suffering from a mental defect.
“This was premeditated,” Chin said at a press conference Wednesday. “It was intentional. It was planned. This was something that wasn’t done by somebody suffering from a mental defect.”
State Department of Health Director Virginia Pressler repeatedly emphasized that the State Hospital is not a prison.
“I don’t know if there are any mental health hospitals that haven’t had escapes,” she said. “It’s a hospital. It’s not a prison. We can’t absolutely assure that no one will ever leave the campus. … In this case, there was fault.”
An investigation is underway into how Saito escaped, and state officials declined to answer questions about how he left hospital grounds, citing patient privacy laws.
A Hawaii taxi driver who gave him a ride to Lagoon Drive said she was unaware her passenger was Saito until she learned of his escape from the media. Saito used an alias when he called Charley’s Taxi on Sunday for a ride, and the driver said she notified the taxi company soon after she saw Saito’s photo on the news.
Sarah Padua, one of the dispatchers at Charley’s Taxi who spoke to Saito, said she and the cabbie were “shaken” when they learned his identity and that he had murdered a woman at random.
According to Honolulu police, Saito left the State Hospital about 10 a.m. Sunday. Padua said another dispatcher received a call at 9:16 a.m. from Saito who identified himself as “Bill” and requested to be picked up by the skate park at Kaneohe District Park.
Padua recalled telling him: “I don’t normally send female drivers to parks. Take care of my driver, and I’m going to follow you (on GPS) to make sure my driver is OK.”
She said Saito replied, “I’ll take care of your driver. Don’t worry about it.”
The driver, who declined to be interviewed, picked up Saito at the park at 10:08 a.m. Surveillance video from a camera in the cab showed Saito wearing a camouflage printed hat, sunglasses and a red jacket. He also was carrying a backpack.
When the driver asked Saito where he was heading, Saito told her Lagoon Drive and said, “The sooner we get there, the better.”
During the ride, Saito said he was catching a flight and needed to be there at 10:30 a.m. The cab arrived at 10:30 a.m., and Saito paid the $47.96 fare with cash.
Had the public been alerted earlier about Saito’s escape, Padua said they might have recognized him.
“We had no knowledge,” Padua said.
“If anything would’ve happened to her … I thank God she’s OK,” Padua said of the taxi driver.
Saito took a chartered flight via Royal Pacific Air to Maui, and then boarded a plane to San Jose. He arrived in California at about 5:30 p.m. Hawaii time Sunday.
Shortly after 7:30 that night, the State Hospital called 911 to report Saito was missing. An all-points bulletin was issued about 8:40 p.m.
In an emailed statement, Royal Pacific Air said, “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.”
The charter company further stated that it followed “all applicable security procedures” and has fully cooperated with law enforcement. Royal Pacific Air declined further comment.
Richard Schuman, president of Makani Kai Air, one of four companies at the airport that provide chartered flights to Maui, said an identification card is not required when booking or boarding a chartered flight.
Arranging a chartered flight is easily done by calling the charter company and paying the fare, which could cost a single passenger approximately $2,500 to $3,000 to Maui from Oahu.
Schuman noted there aren’t many customers who would pay for a chartered flight. An individual requesting a chartered flight roughly between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. would raise a red flag for them, he said, because generally, a single passenger would instead book a flight with Hawaiian Airlines for much less. He pointed out Hawaiian also provides flights to Maui every 30 to 45 minutes.
Associated Press contributed to this report.