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Friday, April 11, 2003



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DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
David Scribner lay face down in handcuffs surrounded by police after his capture in Punaluu yesterday.




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Three Halawa prisoners appear
in court on escape charges

Police say the three escapees caught
yesterday may be sent to mainland prisons

» Community can rest easy
» Quick wits help hunter
» Residents help feed law enforcers



By Craig Gima, Susan Essoyan
and Rosemarie Bernardo
cgima@starbulletin.com
sessoyan@starbulletin.com
rbernardo@starbulletin.com

Albert Batalona, the most notorious of three convicts who sneaked out of Halawa prison and eluded authorities for nearly a week, tried to apologize in District Court this morning.

"First of all, I like to apologize to my son," Batalona said before Judge Russel Nagata cut him off.

"Anything you say can and may be used against you," Nagata warned.

"I've got a lot more to say and I just want to be heard," Batalona said before heeding his lawyer's advice to remain silent.

Batalona, Warren Elicker and David Scribner, were shackled at the hands and feet for their initial court appearance this morning on escape charges.

Their attorney, deputy public defender Martin Bento, objected to what he called "excessive pretrial publicity," saying that it might taint potential jurors.

Nagata set bail for Batalona at $500,000, and $50,000 each for Elicker and Scribner.

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Cornered in a dense Hauula valley forest, the three Halawa prison escapees slipped past police early yesterday morning only to be captured within minutes of each other in Kaneohe and Punaluu in the afternoon.

Since their escape last Friday, the trio survived in a Hauula valley on fruit, beef jerky and water, police said.

They narrowly missed being captured during a search of the valley involving about 100 officers each day, police dogs and a helicopter with an infrared heat-detecting scope.

"They mentioned coming very close to making contact with our officers," said Lt. Bill Kato, who led the manhunt. "They heard the voices, and when that happened they would lay low, wait for an opportunity and go back into the valley again."

All three men are now back in Halawa prison and may be transferred to maximum-security prisons on the mainland. Until then they will be held in Halawa's Special Holding Unit, the highest-security area of the prison, said Acting Public Safety Director James Propotnick.

Propotnick said the escape is still under investigation and that one of the reasons for its timing may have been that Batalona and Elicker learned they were going to be transferred to the mainland.

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DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
David Scribner was placed in a police van after his capture in Punaluu yesterday.




If convicted, Propotnick said, he hopes they will be sentenced to more prison time.

The men may face charges in connection with a carjacking at the Stadium Mall last Friday after they broke out from the Halawa high-security facility.

A relentless law enforcement pursuit, tips from the public and good police work are credited for helping capture the three men, who were considered dangerous but surrendered without incident.

None of the escapees had weapons when they were caught.

"This is a very happy time for law enforcement and the community," said Assistant Police Chief Boisse Correa.

Correctional officers discovered they were missing during a bed check early last Friday. The search for them was concentrated in Hauula after a pig hunter came across the men at a campsite on Sunday.

Correa says the three were in the valley since last Friday when they dropped off a stolen car in the Hauula Kai Shopping Center.

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COURTESY OF KITV NEWS4
Warren Elicker at the Honolulu Police Department main station cellblock.




The pressure put on by officers and days of rain compelled the men to come out of the mountains, Correa said.

"Once we knew we had them in the valley, then we knew we had them," Correa said. "It was just a matter of time."

"They mentioned that they were going to try and live in there for six months, and hopefully the publicity and all the heat would blow over, and then at that point they were going to come out," Kato said. "But when the hunter spotted them, they realized that plan was no good, so they moved deeper in the valley to get away from us."

At one point, Kato said, the men reached the summit but turned back because of the steep cliffs.

Kato said an investigation is continuing into how they got the water and beef jerky and if anyone helped them during the escape. "We thought they would be in bad shape, but they were in pretty good shape. They didn't look as grungy and dirty as we through they would be."

He said the men found clothing in an abandoned cabin deep in the valley.

Yesterday morning, a woman who lives in the valley called police and told them she heard men talking just after sunrise outside her home and that it could have been the escapees, Correa said.

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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Albert Batalona smiled while being brought into Honolulu police headquarters yesterday.




Police later received a tip that Elicker was in a white Ford truck, and an officer spotted Batalona on a city bus.

At about noon, Kahuku patrol officer Rik Orton spotted Scribner, 20, walking south on the mauka side of Kamehameha Highway near the Ponds at Punaluu and radioed for backup.

Orton, a 13-year veteran of the force, said he pulled up in front of Scribner and drew his gun. "I gave him instructions to get on the ground. He refused at first, saying he didn't want to go back to prison and that I would have to shoot him," Orton said. "After several other commands to comply, he did."

Scribner was taken into custody at 12:05 p.m.

"He (Orton) is a hero," Correa said.

Paige Ruggles, 41, of Punaluu, said she heard the neighbor's dog barking and went outside a little after noon. She said she saw a police officer pointing a gun at a man.

"I was a little concerned" but not as worried as her boyfriend, she said. He told her to keep the doors locked and take the phone with her when she went outside, Ruggles said.

Batalona, 27, was arrested a few minutes later at 12:15 p.m.

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DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Bus driver Hubert Fernandez showed where Batalona was seated on his bus.




TheBus driver Hubert Fernandez said yesterday was his first time driving the circle-island Route 55.

He said Batalona came running up to the bus past Pat's at Punaluu at about 11:15 a.m. and flagged him down. Fernandez, 51, said Batalona thanked him, paid the fare and sat in the front seat of the bus.

Fernandez said he did not recognize Batalona, who was much thinner than the prison mug shot released by police.

"He was quiet. He was keeping a low profile," said Fernandez.

Fernandez said he became suspicious when another man wearing fatigues and covered in dirt boarded the bus three stops later and began talking with Batalona.

Fernandez said a woman seated behind him also became suspicious.

"I think what gave him away is that he was holding his hat down," he said. Police said Batalona was wearing a ski cap and dark glasses.

Sometime during the bus ride, Fernandez said, the woman called her daughter on her cellular phone and told her to call police.

Police said a Crime Reduction Unit officer also noticed Batalona, and police began to follow the bus. A plainclothes officer boarded the bus, posing as a passenger to confirm it was Batalona. Police stopped the bus near the American Savings Bank Kaneohe Kahuhipa branch at 45-1144 Kamehameha Highway, and Batalona surrendered without a struggle.

"He just put his hands up and slowly came off the bus," Kato said.

About 50 people were aboard the bus when about 10 officers converged on it.

"Once we had somebody on the bus that could make a tactical decision and give us certain type of information, then we knew that we're in a pretty good position to stop the bus and do what we had to do and protect everybody on the bus," Correa said.

Elicker, 25, was the last to be arrested, at 12:29 p.m.

Correa said police received a tip that Elicker was in a pick-up truck. A patrol officer spotted him and the truck near Castle High School in front of Rose Sarmiento's home at 373 Kaneohe Bay Drive.

"First, I heard a siren. When I looked out, I saw the police officer come out of his car and the guy jump out of the white truck," Sarmiento said.

She said she did not recognize Elicker because of his long, wild hair compared with his mug shot, where he had short hair.

Sarmiento, who was with her two grandchildren at the time of Elicker's arrest, was afraid the escapee was going to run into her house when he jumped out of the truck.

"I'm really relieved. When I think about what could've happened, that really scares me," she said.

Coincidentally, Sarmiento's son, who also observed Elicker's arrest, was a jury member in Batalona's bank robbery case.

Police also arrested the driver of the truck. Correa said the driver may face charges of hindering prosecution and harboring a fugitive.

All three escapees have violent criminal histories.

Batalona is serving a life term for shooting at a police officer in a 1999 Kahala bank robbery. Elicker has 13 felony convictions for armed robbery, kidnapping, burglary and auto theft. He is serving two consecutive 20-year prison terms for two separate 2001 kidnappings and robberies. Scribner has seven felony convictions for robbery, escape and drug promotion. He was serving a 10-year prison term for a failed escape from the Oahu Community Correctional Center in May.


Star-Bulletin reporter Leila Fujimori
contributed to this report.


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Community
can rest easy


By Leila Fujimori
lfujimori@starbulletin.com

Hauula resident Adam Aku said people had told him they were helping the three escapees from the Halawa High Security Facility.

"Plenty people was helping them getting food, and they was getting beer," Aku, 19, said. "I'm surprised they weren't in Mexico by now."

Aku and other residents say Albert Batalona and Warren Elicker have relatives and friends in the area.

Sgt. Ardi Maioho, who patrols the Hauula area, told Aku: "If we find out who helped them, they will go to jail. That's called enabling."

Aku and other Hauula residents said they were relieved that their community could return to normal because of the capture of three dangerous convicts who escaped Friday. Batalona and Elicker were captured yesterday afternoon in Kaneohe, and David Scribner on the highway in Punaluu.

Many residents expressed appreciation for the work of law enforcement officers searching for the escapees since Sunday.

"Now that it's over and we know that we're safe, we can do what we want," said 11-year-old Chase Chase, who would sleep with a baseball bat next to his bed.

Lani Chase kept her children inside and doors and windows locked, but now kids can go out and play. She said her sons and four foster children were really nervous but were relieved after quickly learning of the good news on the radio yesterday.

"(Police) did a great job and I'm proud of the community," she said. "I was worried there would be a shoot-out. I was praying they would turn themselves in."

Paige Ruggles, 41, who witnessed Scribner's arrest in front of her neighbor's home yesterday, lives along the highway in Punaluu near Sacred Falls with dense foliage between her house and the Koolau Mountains in her back yard.

"It's nice, but there is that worry that somebody could be back there, you don't want to back there," she said.

Teachers at a workshop at Hauula Elementary School, which had prepared for a lockdown, let out a huge cheer when they received the news.

"We're wonderful today," said Laurie Flores, 39, a kindergarten teacher who lives in Hauula with her two teenage daughters. The three had been staying at friends' houses during the manhunt. "I can sleep in my own bed tonight."

She said her daughters were afraid when a helicopter flew over their house, thinking "the guys must be right behind our house."

She took her daughters to talk to police stationed near their home. "They were fabulous," Flores said. "I felt safe knowing they were around."


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Quick wits help hunter
get away from escapees


By Leila Fujimori
lfujimori@starbulletin.com

The pig hunter who alerted police to Halawa prison escapees in a Hauula valley said he used a ploy to get away from the three men when they confronted him Sunday morning.

The 32-year-old Hauula resident, who asked that his name not be used, said he knew the escapees wanted his rifle.

He said he thought quickly and began talking loudly into his two-way radio, which was not getting any reception, pretending to communicate with others in his hunting party.

"Get some people here camping. Best we go the next valley," he said into his radio.

He told the men he would be on his way to hunt in the next valley, and slowly walked out. When he was out of sight of the three men, he called 911.

He also left his orange vest on a ridge as an eye-catching marker to help police retrace his steps later.

The 32-year-old Hauula resident said he intended to keep his hunting trip short because he and his wife had plans to take the kids to the museum and movies later that day.

"I was only going to check that one pocket (section)," where he had seen pigs previously, he said.

The hunter became suspicious when he spotted an exposed area of dirt where it appeared someone had slid down the mountainside. He said he also was aware that the escapees' getaway car was discovered in the area.

While climbing a waterfall, he heard his four dogs barking up ahead and heard a commotion. "The dogs startled them," he said.

He said he remained 40 feet away and saw escapee Albert Batalona sitting on a log. He also saw clothes hanging on trees.

"I could tell they were there for at least a couple days from the tracks, which were not real fresh but not real old," he said.

Batalona wore a white shirt and light-colored jeans, he said. He also caught a glimpse of Warren Elicker in a white shirt when Elicker stuck his head out from the bushes where he was hidden. He also noticed there was a third man hidden behind some bushes.

He said the men appeared not to know what to do when he stumbled upon them. They conferred with each other, then asked him what he was doing there, whether he was a hiker, or a game warden, he said.

"No, I'm hunting up here," he replied.

Batalona then said: "Oh, I saw some pigs right behind our campsite. Come check it out."

"I just told them, 'Oh that's good,'" he said. "I already knew they were trying to suck me in" because they wanted his rifle.

He considers himself lucky to have gotten away. "Maybe somebody wouldn't have been as lucky as I was," he said.

It never crossed his mind that he should keep his chance encounter to himself, he said.

"I know a lot of the people here. It wouldn't benefit the community if they came down and took somebody hostage. A couple of these guys have nothing to lose."

After he alerted police, he led officers into the valley, helping them look for the escapees, sharing his knowledge about the terrain, pointing out possible escape routes. He praised police as well organized and having done a good job.


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Residents help feed
law enforcers


By Nelson Daranciang
ndaranciang@starbulletin.com

Educational assistant Julene Kawaauhau and her fellow workers at Hauula Elementary School decided they had to do something for the police, deputy sheriffs and other officers searching for three escaped inmates in the mountains behind the school.

They had heard that some of the officers had not eaten over the weekend and decided to plan meals to feed them throughout the week.

Zeni Iese, of the school's Hawaiian immersion program, called the larger organizations in the area for donations of food. Dennis Nihipali, whose wife works at the school, called the supermarkets. Kawaauhau called the smaller stores in the area.

As word spread, people started calling the school to offer donations. The smaller stores donated water and soda. The owner of a drive-in gave five cases of chicken.

The Polynesian Cultural Center and Brigham Young University-Hawaii provided prepared dinners. And a cafeteria worker at Kahuku High and Intermediate School provided an entire meal.

The volunteers included two janitors, a secretary, the head of the special-education program, the cafeteria workers, some of their family members and a parent of a student.

Kawaauhau estimates the volunteers had been serving about 150 officers a day.

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