Late escape warning perturbs police chief

Springfield security, Williams to meet

Sykesville

January 31, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

After it took nearly four hours for his department to be notified of an escape last week, Sykesville police Chief John R. Williams Jr. wants to make certain the town is informed immediately whenever potentially dangerous patients flee nearby Springfield Hospital Center.

A 24-year-old man charged with 70 counts of burglary fled the campus Jan. 23 along Route 32, a two-lane highway that separates the hospital from the town of 3,500.

"This incident causes concern, because the information on this escape was not received in a timely manner," Williams said. "We don't want to cause a panic, but at the same time, precautionary measures are critical. We have to use the resources we have to give the most protection to citizens."

Williams will meet with hospital security staff next week to review notification procedures at the facility for the mentally ill.

Craig William Hann escaped the hospital's Solomon Building and remains at large. A heroin addict, Hann is considered "a danger to himself and to others," police said.

Hospital staff saw Hann about 8:10 p.m., then noticed he was missing about 8:30 p.m. The Solomon Building has locked rooms and a fenced courtyard, and patients are checked regularly, hospital officials said.

Hann had been transferred to the hospital from the Carroll County Detention Center in Westminster for a mental evaluation. After searching the building, the nursing staff Teletyped the information about the escape to the Sheriff's Department in Westminster, said Janice Bowen, Springfield's chief operating officer.

"The nursing staff contacted the sheriff's office about the escape, and they were here within two hours," Bowen said.

Sykesville Police Department was not notified until about midnight, a delay of almost four hours that cost officers valuable search time, Williams said.

"I would have thought the normal practice would be to notify, particularly the nearest law enforcement officer," said Williams, who took over the chief's job in Sykesville in November.

Once the hospital notifies Sykesville police, officers would get a description of the escapee, Williams said. Police would increase patrols, protect schools and other areas with children, check public telephone booths and highways and watch for hitchhikers, Williams said.

"Obviously, the sooner we are able to look, the sooner we can close avenues of escape," said Lt. Terry L. Katz, commander of the Westminster barracks of the Maryland State Police. "You want to limit the opportunities to get further away."

State police issued a press release with a description of Hann last Thursday, the day after the escape, saying Hann had been incarcerated at the detention center on numerous burglary charges. Hann's attorney had requested the mental competency examination, an evaluation that can take 30 days.

Williams brought up the incident at a meeting yesterday with Katz and other Carroll municipal police. "We want to look at this event and try to plan from it," Katz said. "Obviously, we want to make sure as many police resources as possible are used to address this type [of] problem."

State police are responsible for apprehending Hann and returning him to the detention center. If he needs further evaluation, Katz said, he probably would be sent to a more secure location such as the state's Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup.

"We are actively looking for him and optimistic about arresting him," said Katz, adding that investigators have a 70 percent apprehension rate. "He is a danger to himself and to others."

At the meeting, Williams mentioned a computer system used in Frederick County, which he called ideal for similar situations. "You can plug in blocks of phone numbers and give all area police a recorded message with all the information," Williams said.

He expects to discuss similar measures with hospital security.

"I am not pointing blame, but maybe it is time to reassess procedures so that information is immediately passed out," he said. "We want to see what we can do to rectify the problem."

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