Free Bird: One Need Not Be Houdini to Bust Out of a San Francisco Jail

The problem with foolproof plans is that fools are so ingenious. But Timothy Midgett's plan for escaping county jail at 850 Bryant St. earlier this month was, indeed, foolproof. While taking out the trash, Midgett ran out the open door. The end.

He remains at large as of press time.

Why Midgett, who was 11 months through a 12-month sentence, would choose to bolt “is the question we are all asking ourselves,” says Senior Sheriff's Deputy Enrique Luquin. That's unusual, and that's one of the reasons guards let their guard down, enabling such a rudimentary escape.

That rudimentary escape, however, is not unusual. Sheriff's Department records stretch back only to the primordial days of 1996. In that time, five prior inmates have successfully taken themselves out for a walk in four separate incidents. None of these escapes were especially great.

• July 22, 2002: Headlines the next day read “Inmate Takes Stroll Out of S.F. Jail” after journeyman burglar James Flanagan decided to break out of a building for a change. He was recaptured within a day.

• April 4, 2002: While being transferred from the Hall of Justice to the hospital, 20-year-old Leland Staats busted out of a van on Highway 101. He then, tragically, plunged 30 feet from the overpass to his death.

• Sept. 4, 1997: Paul Locicero and Craig Knight sprinted out of county lockup in San Bruno — and, for Locicero, it truly was a sprint. He led authorities on a foot chase through suburban backyards and was captured within a mile of his cell. Knight lasted three more days before being recaptured. Their means of escape is not listed within department records, or recalled by longtime personnel. But since Knight was corralled after multiple Sunset District residents complained a man was attempting to kick in their doors, it was, presumably, relatively straightforward.

• Aug. 4, 1995: In a case predating the department's records, Jonathan Hirst, accused of attempted murder, scaled a fence at the San Bruno jail and ran like hell. He was captured within 14 hours when, serendipitously, a friend of Hirst's was tailed to the escapee by none other than the man Hirst was accused of stabbing.

San Francisco, it seems, can't be the most interesting at everything. City residents likely don't give much thought to suburban Dublin across the bay. But, on Nov. 5, 1986, Ronald McIntosh — who had earlier escaped that city's Federal Correctional Institution — landed a commandeered helicopter in the prison exercise yard. He absconded with his sweetheart, convicted bank robber Samantha Lopez.

Ten days later, both were recaptured — while attempting to buy wedding rings at the mall.

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