May 08--A faulty electric fence may have helped a patient make a brief escape Monday from the North Dakota State Hospital's Secure Services Unit.
Vance Mey, 18, originally from the Williston, N.D., area, scaled the fence about 9:30 a.m. Monday and was captured about half an hour later.
Mey was at the unit for an evaluation, according to Cpl. Bob Schlenvogt, shift supervisor for the Jamestown Police Department.
The Secure Services Unit is where the State Hospital treats sex offenders.
"The fence was malfunctioning," said Alex Schweitzer, State Hospital superintendent. "It should have given him a jolt and set off alarms."
Schweitzer said staff were in the outdoor exercise area when Mey started climbing the 10- to 12-foot tall fence. They were not able to pull Mey down and he managed to reach the top before jumping down on the other side and running to some nearby trees.
"He is a wiry, athletic guy," Schweitzer said. "In a blink of an eye he went over the fence. Staff tried to stop him but he got over."
State Hospital staff then notified security guards at the James River Correctional Center as well as Jamestown and Stutsman County law enforcement agencies.
"We got some help from the public in capturing this guy," said Scott Edinger, Jamestown police chief. "A couple of guys reported where they saw him. Three officers caught him in the ravine along the Buffalo Scenic Road."
Edinger said it appeared Mey had used a tunnel under U.S. Interstate 94 meant for moving livestock.
If he used the tunnel, he would have gone through a pasture south of I-94 where part of the National Buffalo Museum's bison herd is located, according to Felicia Sargeant, museum director.
"Given it's calving season, I don't know if it would have been good (if he encountered a bison)," Sargeant said. "There is a reason we only drive vehicles in the pasture. There is something about a 2,000-pound animal moving at 35 mph you don't want to mess with."
Mey was captured in the summer pasture of the National Buffalo Museum north of I-94. There were no bison in that pasture at the time.
"He was soaking wet and it was about 50 degrees out," Edinger said. "He didn't put up any fight."
Mey was returned to the State Hospital where he faces possible disciplinary action. Schweitzer said he also may face criminal charges for escaping.
In the meantime, an internal investigation of the incident is under way at the State Hospital.
"We certainly have to work on the malfunction of the fence," Schweitzer said. "We will do a root cause analysis because this is a major incident. That will determine if there is any other actions we need to take."
The outdoor exercise yard will remain off limits to State Hospital patients until the investigation is complete.
Schweitzer said the incident was unfortunate but proved security procedures worked.
"Our system worked," he said. "We feel good about the fact he was almost immediately recaptured."
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at [email protected]
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