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Felons damaged wall to escape Virginia mental hospital; Governor orders security review

Posted at 4:53 PM, Apr 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-18 18:27:09-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Governor Glenn Youngkin (R - Virginia) asked his Secretary of Health and Human Resources to conduct a review of safety and security protocols at Virginia’s mental health facilities after two patients escaped from Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg on Saturday night.

One of the patients, Bryce Marcus Wilkerson, is still on the loose, and Virginia State Police believe he could be armed and dangerous.

The other, Austin Preston Leigh, was apprehended in Chesapeake at 5:45 on Sunday evening.

 Austin Preston Leigh and Bryant Marcus Wilkerson
Austin Preston Leigh and Bryant Marcus Wilkerson

It appears the two men damaged an interior wall to escape, according to a Virginia State Police spokesperson.

The hospital is located just three miles from the College of William and Mary, where tour groups toured the school on Monday.

"I'm surprised definitely surprised. I thought people couldn't get out of there," Jennifer Leonard, who visited the area with her niece and nephew Monday afternoon, said about the escape.

Eastern State is Virginia’s first psychiatric hospital.

Officials at the hospital alerted Virginia State Police on Sunday morning that the pair escaped.

Grace Cornbrooks, a William & Mary student, said the situation was unsettling for her and her friends.

"We made sure all the doors were locked and the windows," Cornbrooks said.

She wants to know why hospital security and staff failed to catch the men damaging the wall, and what’s being done to prevent this from happening again.

Eastern State Hospital 01.jpg

A patient escaped from this very hospital last April. Patients escaped from Central State Hospital in Petersburg in November and again in March, according to news reports online.

"It's something they need to be more careful about and there needs to be more security involved," Cornbrooks said.

Eastern State Hospital will conduct an internal investigation into the incident, according to a spokeswoman.

Here is the full statement from Governor Youngkin's office:

"The governor is monitoring the situation and working with state and local officials on the matter. In addition, he has asked the secretary of health and human resources, with the assistance of the secretary of public safety, to conduct a review of safety and security protocols at our mental health facilities. We know that there are significant challenges with the mental health system in Virginia. Through the budget process, the governor is working with legislators to find long term solutions to ensure that care is available, accessible and secure by increasing historically low salaries at state hospitals and much-needed improvements to state hospital services and community mental health services. Budget discussions are also focused on bolstering behavioral health and crisis services across Virginia, improving the discharge processes at state hospitals and developing an alternative to current emergency custody and temporary detention order processes in order to relieve law enforcement of long hours waiting with patients in emergency departments."

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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