Sunday, January 28, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 28, 2001

13 at large over years from jail on O'ahu

Still on the run

By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer

One escapee on the loose has a history of sexual battery.

Another has 30 convictions, from traffic offenses to robbery.

Another man, jailed for a parole violation and assault, was once acquitted on a murder charge.

All of them were almost finished serving time for their crimes when they simply slipped away from a work-furlough program at Oahu Community Correctional Center.

Clayton Martin, the sexual offender from Virginia. Rodney Avilla, the guy with the long rap sheet. Jon Wiseman, the one who once faced a murder charge. They and 10 others have eluded local authorities, yet they remain on a prison warden’s list of the ones who got away.

They didn’t escape with the kind of drama found in a movie screenplay, the way suspected car thief Kerbert Silva did when he scaled a razor-wire fence and fled OCCC in Kalihi. Nor did they receive the same kind of attention as Silva, who was the focus of a weeklong manhunt that led to his arrest Thursday.

These 13 men are known, in prison jargon, as "the walkaways." They officially are prison escapees. But instead of sneaking away, they just never came back.

Jay Hurley, convicted of burglary, has eluded police the longest, since 1992. And Jon Sorenson, a man with 25 convictions, like Silva, escaped on his birthday. Sorenson walked away when he turned 45. Somewhere outside correction officers’ watch, he turned 46 in October.

"They could be dead," OCCC Warden Clayton Frank said of the walkaways. "They could be in another jurisdiction, another island. They could be on the Mainland."

Even on an island, it’s possible to slip away, said Robin Nagamine, acting sheriff’s lieutenant in the warrants section, who helped in the search for Silva.

"It’s basically just staying out of trouble and blending into the background," he said.

At OCCC, which houses more than 1,000 inmates, about eight people a year attempt to escape or walk away, Frank said.

"The majority of people get caught within the first month," he said. "The longer it is, the harder it gets."

The 13 walkaways on his list failed to return to the prison’s day reporting center or to Laumaka Work Furlough Center across the street. Such programs are considered a privilege, Frank said. Inmates in those programs are not locked up overnight or monitored with electronic wristbands. But they must check in on time and are subject to drug testing.

"They’re almost out the door," Frank said of the inmates in the work programs that move them back into society. "What makes them take off, that always puzzles me. As long as they’re deemed an escape, you’ve got to consider it serious."

The consequence for walking away is an escape charge that could add up to five years to an inmate’s sentence.

Finding an escapee can be complicated by that person’s ability to assume another identity or stay out of trouble, Frank said. A minor traffic charge could result in someone being found if authorities are quick enough to check a person’s background, he said.

Officers then rely on prosecutors to follow through on escape charges, he said.

Although charges sometimes are reduced to the original offense or trimmed in plea bargains, prosecutors try to hold escapees accountable for getting away, said Jim Fulton, spokesman for the Honolulu prosecutor’s office.

"We will add on the escape charge if there’s probable cause," Fulton said. "We’ll go after them one way or the other."

The biggest help in bringing an escapee to justice is the public, Frank said.

Just as tips to the TV show "America’s Most Wanted" led to the arrests last week of the Texas prison escapees accused of killing a police officer, authorities rely on tips about suspects involved even in less serious crimes, Frank said.

"The biggest tips come from Joe Q. Citizen who takes the time to make the call," he said.

Honolulu’s CrimeStoppers unit, which is run out of the city Police Department, offers up to $1,000 for tips that lead to arrests. Callers to the hot line, 955-8300, can remain anonymous.

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