By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The state Director of Public Safety said that two inmates staged a daring and violent escape from Hawaii Community Correctional Center shortly before 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Police are looking for 35-year-old Jarvis Naoki Higa of Hilo and 31-year-old Ryan Jeffries-Hamar of Kona.
“My understanding is that the two inmates were in the library at the facility,” DPS Director Ted Sakai said. “They beat up a correctional officer, threatened another staff member, stole her car keys, and were able to break open through a gate. Apparently, they were able to break it down, and took the librarian’s car.”
Sakai said that the guard, whom he described as a “veteran adult corrections officer” was seriously injured and taken to the emergency room at Hilo Medical Center. He didn’t know the nature of the man’s injuries. He said that the librarian, a woman, wasn’t physically injured.
Sakai said that the corrections officer was not carrying a sidearm or a nightstick.
“We don’t like to arm our correctional officers … exactly because of this situation. Then the inmates become armed,” he explained.
There were numerous sightings of the inmates after the escape. The first public alert by police stated that they had been spotted in the Sunrise Ridge subdivision off Komohana Street, about a mile from the Punahele Street jail.
Police put up roadblocks on Komohana Wednesday morning while searching for the inmates.
“The vehicle has been recovered,” said Lt. Greg Esteban of the police Criminal Investigations Section. “The ACO doesn’t have any life-threatening injuries, and we’re actively looking for these individuals.”
Esteban said he has information that Higa and Jeffries Hamar have changed from their orange prison jumpsuits into civilian clothes.
“They may be in the upper Kaumana area,” he said at about 1 p.m. “We’ve got guys up there now; we’ve got the fire helicopter up there, as well. We’ve got aerial and ground support, too.
“We’ve got some active leads, so we’re following up on those right now.”
Hilo resident Gary Fujihara told the Tribune-Herald early Wednesday afternoon that there were “choke cop cars and officers swarming houses on both sides of Kaumana Drive between Hokulani and Iiwipolena streets.
“I saw a helicopter up there earlier,” Fujihara said. “There were cop cars on at least five properties on the Puna side of the street and four of the properties on the Hamakua side of that street. Traffic was just going at a crawl, because the cop cars were parked all along that road … and it was infringing on the thoroughfare going through there.
“The place was crawling with cops and guys who looked like bounty hunters. I’m sure they weren’t bounty hunters, they were probably undercover guys. They had their badges on lanyards around their necks.”
A clerk at Hilo High School said that Hilo High, Hilo Intermediate and Hilo Union schools were all placed on lockdown status after notification of the escape.
Esteban said he considers both escapees dangerous and advises the public not to contact the men if they encounter them, but to “call 911 immediately.”
Higa is awaiting trial on attempted murder, unauthorized entry to a motor vehicle and a firearms charge. The attempted murder and firearms charge are in connection with a July shooting incident in Keaukaha. The intended victim was not injured. DPS spokeswoman Toni Schwartz also said that he is a parole violator.
Jeffries-Hamar escaped in August from Hale Nani Correctional Facility where he was serving a sentence for burglary. He was re-arrested in September and was facing a second-degree escape charge. That month, police also named him as part of a “drug-related burglary ring” operating in Kona.
“Obviously, we’re very concerned about having two escapees from the community and we’re gonna do all we can to work with the police to make sure they’re apprehended,” Sakai said. “But we’re also very concerned about the health of our staff, both the officer who was beaten, and the librarian, who has to be traumatized over this incident.”
Sakai said he would be “sending a team from Honolulu to Hilo to do a complete investigation so we know what happened.” He said that the facility, which is designed to house 226 inmates, currently has “in excess of 300” in its population.
“We need to modernize the facility and we’re developing plans to do so,” he said. “But right now, we have needs across the state. I’m not trying to minimize the needs at HCCC. I realize that there are serious needs. And it’s badly overcrowded, and we’re looking at that.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.