SEATTLE – A man accused of torturing a woman to death but found too mentally ill for trial was on the loose Thursday after crawling out a window in a locked, lower-security unit of a Washington state psychiatric hospital already facing federal scrutiny over safety problems.
Anthony Garver, 28, escaped Wednesday night with Mark Alexander Adams, 58, a patient who had been accused of domestic assault in 2014 and was captured Thursday morning, officials said. Authorities believe Garver bought a bus ticket from Seattle across the state to Spokane.
Spokane Sheriff’s Capt. Dave Ellis told the Spokesman-Review that Garver was spotted in an area in the city’s East Valley and authorities were searching Thursday evening with police dogs, a SWAT team and helicopters.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich described the search as “a pretty intense situation.”
Western State Hospital says the men were discovered missing 45 minutes after they were last seen, but police said it took an hour and a half. There was no immediate way to reconcile the different timelines.
Garver was charged in 2013 with tying a 20-year-old woman to her bed with electrical cords, stabbing her 24 times in the chest and slashing her throat, Snohomish County Assistant Prosecutor Craig Matheson said.
Garver, who also has a history of running from authorities, was moved to a lower-security unit of the state’s largest psychiatric hospital after a judge said treatment to prepare him to face criminal charges was not working.
The escape is the latest in a litany of problems at the 800-bed hospital south of Tacoma, where violent assaults on both staff and patients have occurred.
U.S. regulators have repeatedly cited the facility over safety concerns and threatened to cut millions in federal funding.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently extended the hospital’s deadline for fixing the problems from April 1 to May 3. A federal judge also has said the hospital has failed to provide timely competency services to mentally ill people charged with crimes.
A bus driver picked up a man he believed was Garver on Wednesday evening, said police, who urged anyone who spots him to stay away and contact authorities. Garver has been convicted of multiple charges and twice fled from authorities by stealing a car or leading a high-speed chase.
Garver’s lawyer, Jon Scott, said he hopes Garver “is found quickly and safely.”
Adams also got on a bus and asked the driver how to get to the airport. Someone recognized Adams, and officers picked him up without incident in a town just south of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Lakewood police Lt. Chris Lawler said.
The men were last seen at 6 p.m. Wednesday during dinner and found missing 45 minutes later during a routine patient check, said Carla Reyes, assistant director of the Department of Social and Health Services’ Behavioral Health Administration, which oversees mental health services in the state.
Police said the absence was discovered at 7:30 p.m. and officers were alerted just after 7:45 p.m.
Patients in the hospital’s lower-security unit are checked every hour, Reyes said. Garver and Adams were not placed in the high-security unit because a judge granted a state request to hold them as a danger to themselves or others after treatment failed to restore their ability to understand the criminal charges against them.
Officials are conducting a safety review of the hospital and will bring in outside experts to help, Reyes said.
“We can never have too many fresh eyes reviewing a situation as serious as this,” Reyes said in a statement.
Nursing supervisor Paul Vilja said he was amazed to hear the men who escaped were assigned to a unit with hourly checks, because some of the more-dangerous patients are in units with checks every 15 minutes.
Vilja and other hospital workers objected when the hospital first required the 15-minute checks two years ago because they said staffing levels were not adequate to handle the extra duties. Workers were required to fill out forms for each check but often fell behind, so not all of them were done, Vilja said.
The state has tried to fix some of the problems by increasing funding to hire more workers. But the hospital has struggled with recruiting and retaining staffers. The state has a history of underfunding its mental health programs, including its facilities, said Lauren Simonds, executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Washington.
Despite increased federal scrutiny, assaults have persisted at the hospital, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.
A patient with a history of violent behaviour choked and punched a mental health technician on March 26, according to an internal report. Another report on March 23 said a male patient slipped out of his monitors and was found in a bathroom with another male patient, who said he was sexually assaulted.
Injured employees missed 41,301 days of work between 2010 and 2014, and on-the-job injuries forced staff to move to other jobs, like desk work, for 7,760 days during that period, according to state Occupational Safety and Health Administration records.
Workers’ compensation insurance paid $6 million in wage and medical costs for claims to injured hospital workers between January 2013 and September 2015, according to records acquired by the AP.