Jason Carter managed to ditch the 1991 white state van he stole from the hospital and buy a Chevrolet Lumina during his 24 hours as a free man, investigators said.
A cellphone signal alerted authorities to a motel off Interstate 40 west of Nashville, Tenn., where Carter, 39, was taken into custody around 9:15 a.m., the Tennessee Highway Patrol said in a news release.
How Carter had the money to buy a car and make his way 475 miles away is one of many things the South Carolina Department of Mental Health plans to investigate. "There are a lot of different issues we are going to be looking at—not just how he slipped out without permission," agency spokesman Mark Binkley said.
Officers checking on Carter's parents in 2006 found them dead and wrapped in plastic in the basement of their Seneca home. They had both been shot in the head. Oconee County deputies said it appeared Carter spent several days in the same room with them. He was charged with two counts of murder.
But a judge found Carter not guilty by reason of insanity in 2009. At a hearing, his lawyer said DNA evidence would likely link him to the killings of his mother and stepfather. But he said Carter was severely schizophrenic and suffered from paranoia and delusions of grandeur to the point he couldn't tell right from wrong.
The judge committed Carter to a mental hospital. Under state law, he is supposed to be given therapy and medication and can be released if doctors show a judge that his condition has improved enough so that he no longer needs hospitalization.
Authorities refused to discuss specifics of Carter's case because of federal medical privacy laws. Department of Mental Health officials wouldn't even say his name, referring to him as the "escaped patient" when talking to reporters.
Carter disappeared from his job at a supply business at the Bryan Psychiatric Hospital in Columbia around 10:30 a.m. Thursday, but a bulletin didn't go out to law enforcement until three hours later because it appears employees waited to tell the agency's law enforcement officials. The public wasn't told about his escape until 3:30 p.m. when Oconee County deputies, who are 140 miles away, issued a news release with Carter's name and picture.
There is a fence around part of the mental hospital, but the escaped patient was working in an area outside the fence. Binkley said administrators are also concerned that it appears it took employees so long to report the escape to public safety officers in the agency.
"The hot topic now is to figure out all the circumstances around what happened," he said.
Oconee County Sherif's spokesman Jimmy Watt said his agency decided to let the public know about Carter's escape as quickly as possible because of the circumstances surrounding his parents' deaths.
"We decided for public safety and public information reasons to put out a press release," Watt said. "In terms of what other agencies might do, I can't answer that."