Officials: Design flaw enabled inmate escape

A design oversight at the county Youth Services Center, from which 17-year-old murder suspect Josue Orozco escaped last week, allowed the young fugitive to flee the San Mateo facility, authorities revealed Tuesday.

Orozco scaled a 15-foot wall near a basketball court at the facility after two inmates boosted him high enough to reach halogen lights installed only 12 feet up the wall, according to officials. He used the lights as grappling mounts to climb over, then slipped through a hole in a fence and made his getaway.

The escape has highlighted a few security and protocol issues since Orozco fled sometime between 6:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. Thursday.

The youngest person charged with murder in San Mateo County, Orozco was only 14 when he was charged with the murder of Francisco “Pancho” Rodriguez, of Redwood City, in 2005. Orozco faces life without parole.

In addition to the placement of the lights, authorities were not alerted until after close to three hours after the escape.

“Orozco has had ample time to plan his escape,” said San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Mark Alcantara.

The halogen lights have now been raised to 15 feet and the recreation yard where the inmates were playing basketball has been closed, Probation Department Supervisor Loren Buddress said Tuesday.

The Youth Services Center, at 222 Paul Scannell Drive, is considering a number of long-term changes, Buddress said, such as the setup of an emergency notification phone service that will notify neighbors in the event of another escape.

Authorities also plan to revamp the process of notifying state law enforcement agencies and securing arrest warrants, Buddress said.

The probation department, which is responsible for the Youth Services Department, aims to finish its investigation this week and recommend any security upgrades, Buddress said.

The probation department continues to review surveillance tapes, which show two inmates, Martin Villa Patino and Vanher Cho, both 18, boosting Orozco high enough to grab onto the lights, Buddress said.

Authorities do not know who might have cut the hole in the fence, Alcantara said. The tapes also show a midsize black sedan with chrome wheels pulling to the fence around 7 p.m., he said.

Authorities are “not positive that the car was part of the escape,” but can’t discount that it might have been involved, he said.

A manhunt is currently under way, with county sheriff’s deputies, FBI, state law enforcement and border patrol working together to find Orozco.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors expects to hold its own separate investigation into the incident next Tuesday, said Bill Chiang, aide to Supervisor Adrienne Tissier.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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