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Killer escapes on trip to county fair

Authorities in Spokane, Wash., have put out a statewide alert for a mentally ill killer who escaped during a hospital field trip to a county fair.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Authorities have put out a statewide alert for a mentally ill killer who escaped during a hospital field trip to a county fair, leading to fears that he'll become more unstable and potentially dangerous the longer he is on the loose with no medication.

Sgt. Dave Reagan of the Spokane County sheriff's office says Phillip Arnold Paul remained at large Friday and officials believe he's headed to Sunnyside, the town where his parents live. Reagan said anyone spotting him should call 911 and not try to confront him.

Paul was committed after he was acquitted by reason of insanity in the 1987 slaying of an elderly woman in Sunnyside. He soaked the woman's body in gasoline to throw off search dogs and buried the remains in her flower garden. He reportedly said voices in his head told him she was a witch.

He was caught trying to escape four years later, and later knocked a deputy unconscious in the booking area following his detention.

The 57-year-old Paul escaped Thursday during a supervised outing to the Spokane County Interstate Fair for patients from Eastern State Hospital. Thirty-one patients were on the trip with 11 staff members.

Local officials and fairgoers said they were stunned that mental patients, including at least one with a violent criminal past, would be taken to the fair.

"I think it's wrong, it's totally wrong," said Jennifer Craig, who was visiting the fair with her husband and grandchildren. "You're putting too many kids and old disabled people like me at risk."

Teams clear patients for field trips
Patients must be cleared by a treatment team of six to 12 clinicians, according to an extensive checklist before they can go on field trips to stores, parks, ball games, fairs and other sites, hospital spokesman Jim Stevenson said. They wear street clothing and need not all stay together, but staff members are required to keep each patient within eyesight at all times.

"They have gone to the county fair in past years," said Stevenson.

Hospital CEO Harold Wilson told The Spokesman-Review Paul had been "a fairly model patient."

The escape led state Department of Social and Health Services Secretary Susan Dreyfus to order an indefinite halt to all outings involving criminally committed patients at the state's three mental institutions.

Dreyfus also instructed Eastern State to review the policy on patient outings and a plan to prevent similar problems.

Lawmaker: Security 'inept'
"It's outrageous that security was so inept that a guy who's officially regarded as criminally insane was able to just slip away from the group," state Rep. Matt Shea of Spokane Valley told The Spokesman-Review.

In Paul's 1991 escape, he walked away from custody during a day trip was captured at the western Spokane County line. He attacked a sheriff's deputy in the jail booking area, knocking him unconscious and separating his shoulder, and was convicted of first-degree escape and second-degree assault.

Hospital officials told authorities that Paul hadn't exhibited violent behavior in years. They argued in the past that he should be released, but his petition for release was rejected in 2003.

He was described as 5-foot-8 and 207 pounds with brown hair and a goatee, was wearing blue jeans and a red windbreaker over a blue T-shirt.