An escaped Berkeley County inmate hung out at a Myrtle Beach hospital for about two weeks, posing as the brother of a comatose patient, while other hospital visitors fed him and even laundered his clothes, authorities said.
Myrtle Beach police arrested 39-year-old James Sanders after he spent more than a month on the lam and evaded authorities during a three-county search. His fatal mistake: He allegedly took a woman’s wallet at Broadway at the Beach Thursday night.
Police there arrested Sanders on charges of larceny and resisting arrest. Sanders had escaped from the Hill-Finklea Detention Center in Berkeley County on Jan. 26.
After escaping, Sanders hitched a ride from a Moncks Corner woman, who dropped him off near Charleston’s Medical University Hospital. Surveillance video shows him wandering the halls there, and authorities said he made hospitals his pattern.
In the weeks that followed, he found shelter at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center under an alias of “Kevin,” and stayed close to the bedside of a man in a coma, according to deputy U.S. Marshal Frank McCoy. McCoy said the patient eventually woke up, and a real relative came to visit. A nurse told the relative that “Kevin” had been there for weeks, but the relative said she didn’t know any Kevins, according to McCoy. The nurse pointed out Sanders, McCoy said, and the relative reiterated that she didn’t know him.
Hospital staff escorted Sanders out, but only after he had milked other visitors for hundreds of dollars, plus meals and laundry services, McCoy said. “Once we found that out, we sent notifications to hospitals statewide and visited all hospitals from Myrtle Beach to Charleston,” McCoy said. “He did the same thing at MUSC. He actually got money and food from people.”
Authorities canvassed shetlers, churches and rehabilitation centers, too — anywhere with free meals, McCoy said. Sanders ate a free breakfast Wednesday morning but did not return to the same spot for lunch.
Police arrested Sanders after a woman told police shortly after 11:30 p.m. Thursday that Sanders stole her wallet, according to a report. The report, which lists Sanders’ alias as Allen Bowzard, says the wallet had been hanging partially out of Sanders’ back pocket.
Sanders faced a bond hearing in Myrtle Beach Friday morning before Berkeley County sheriff’s officials transport him back to Berkeley County.
A jail video shows Sanders resident wriggling free of a handcuff on Jan. 26 and casually walking through an employee exit at the Hill-Finklea Detention Center in Moncks Corner. Jail employees were readying Sanders for release without knowing he still faced a charge of criminal domestic violence.
Officials placed Sanders’ estranged girlfriend into protective custody and fired or disciplined four jail employees for their roles in the incident.
The jail changed procedures for releasing inmates, and the room where Sanders was being held that day is now off-limits to inmates.
On Feb. 1, he was spotted near Summerville after getting off a Greyhound bus and running across Interstate 26. An ensuing search with police dogs, helicopters and vehicle checks came up empty.