VERNON, Texas (KXAN) — The search has intensified for an Austin man who escaped from a state mental hospital Sunday night.
Alexander Ervin had been at the North Texas State Hospital, in Vernon, since a jury acquitted him in 2014 of his father’s murder by reason of insanity.
Ervin was seen climbing over an eight-foot fence at the state hospital before running off.
The police chief there, Randy Agan, said since then, they’ve dedicated more manpower and time to finding him over concerns he may turn violent.
“Everybody has expressed concerns if he’s not received his medications, that he becomes more violent. And that is a extreme concern for us here in Vernon,” Agan said.
Agan said partners in the search include the Texas Rangers, Texas Department of Public Safety, the Office of the Attorney General, and the U.S. Marshal’s Office, along with the Wilbarger County Sheriff’s Department.
He said they’ve searched dozens of buildings in and around Vernon, and are also searching for Ervin by air.
“We have utilized aircraft trying to search dense areas with… technology and radar systems to determine if someone can be hiding inside of dense areas along the river and… around other areas that have a high density of brush and trees,” he said. “Or anything that may obscure obstructive view of just driving by and looking at at it.”
Agan said he couldn’t comment on how Ervin may have escaped the state hospital.
New data shows the struggle to hire staff at state hospitals. In a presentation to state lawmakers this week, Texas Health and Human services said they have more than 1,000 unfilled positions at state hospitals, showing a chart depicting staff decline since 2020.
Spokesperson Kelli Weldon said they’ve reduced the number of patients in Vernon to make sure they’re meeting staffing standards set by the Joint Commissioner.
“We do have a need for additional staff, and we are actively working to recruit and hire additional team members to provide care and treatment for the psychiatric patients we serve at the hospital,” wrote Weldon in an email to KXAN.
According to HHS’ presentation, they’re operating hospitals across the state at reduced capacity, with more than 700 beds offline.
When pressed on how someone might have escaped the facility and where on the grounds guards were on Sunday night, Weldon said they could not provide that information.
“We have staff present 24/7 at the facility. We take safety and security at the facility seriously, and for security reasons we cannot provide specific information about security measures,” Weldon wrote.
Weldon also said that when there is an escapee, in general, protocol is to alert law enforcement and, if appropriate, HHSC Provider Investigations, which also investigates claims of abuse, neglect or exploitation.
Weldon added that they also conduct a review to strengthen policies and procedures, as needed.
Agan said they will investigate how Ervin escaped from the hospital, too, but are first focused on finding him.
“We have notified all neighboring agencies and agencies in Austin, where Ervin is from, and they’re conducting searches in their areas,” he said.
He encouraged folks to be alert.
“Be aware of your surroundings. If you see something, call it in. Nothing’s too small,” he said.