Friday, March 23, 2001

OCCC escapees
benefited from
security lapses

"How the hell did this guy get out?"
asks the prison's warden

By Nelson Daranciang

The cover to the control box that opens and closes the prison cell doors was not locked. Neither was the gate for the room to the control box. The inmate who got into the room to open the prison cell doors should not have been out of his cell. The sergeant who was on duty was not there.

These are some of the security breaches Honolulu police and state prison officials are investigating in the wake of the second escape from Oahu Community Correctional Center in the past two months.

Wednesday's escape was from the facility's holding unit, which is supposed to be the facility's most secure area. And prison officials had beefed up security after Kerbert Silva, 37, escaped on Jan. 17. He was recaptured a week later.

"That's what the perplexing thing we find. This was supposed to be a secure area. How the hell did this guy get out?" said Clayton Frank, OCCC warden.

Silva escaped again at about 7:20 p.m. Wednesday night, accompanied by accused killer Eric Vance, 31, and robbery suspect Paul Damas, 43.

Prison officials caught Damas scaling an interior fence in the facility. Silva and Vance had already made their way up the fence and were on their way over the same spot on the perimeter fence that Silva had gone over two months before.

Police and State Public Safety officers searched for escapee Eric
Vance late Wednesday night. He was caught hours later.

This time there was more razor wire on top of the fence. Prison officials plan to add even more.

Guards from two watchtowers fired six shots at Vance and Silva. Neither was hit.

"He's playing like Russian roulette. Shots were fired last time, again this time," Frank said of Silva's daring escapes.

Vance sustained two broken legs and cuts and abrasions.

Police arrested Silva in front of a warehouse on Sand Island Access Road 45 minutes later and Vance less than three hours later hitchhiking near the corner of Nimitz Highway and Sand Island Access Road.

Kalihi police said plainclothes crime reduction unit officers in an unmarked car saw Vance "pop up" behind some bushes across Nimitz from the Disabled American Veterans Hall.

The two officers happened to be looking for Vance, and, according to police reports, they stopped their car and let Vance "catch a ride."

OCCC's three-floor holding unit is for inmates who pose the greatest security risk. Inmates are locked in their cells at least 23 hours a day. They are allowed to leave their cells only for recreation, showers and telephone calls. In addition, Frank ordered Silva handcuffed and shackled whenever he was allowed outside his cell.

Frank said he is considering transferring Silva to Halawa Correctional Facility.

Each floor has a "floor boy" who is allowed to leave his cell for more than an hour a day to do janitorial duties. For the first floor it was Damas.

"Because of his custody classification -- he was deemed a problem inmate -- the question that we had was, if he was deemed a maximum (security) inmate or a problem inmate, what was he doing as a floor boy?" Frank wondered.

On Wednesday the adult corrections officer on duty allowed Damas to make a telephone call. Instead, he went to the control box to open the cell doors to all 12 cells on the first floor.

Investigators are trying to determine whether Damas was already out of his cell or was let out to make the telephone call.

Silva was awaiting trial for auto theft, escape and theft. Vance was awaiting trial for second-degree murder in the shooting death of Kaneohe liquor store owner Song Chol Marshall on Christmas Eve. Damas was awaiting trial for robbery and terroristic threatening.

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