An alert citizen and a cabdriver ended an almost eight-hour manhunt late Wednesday afternoon when Elgin police said they captured a prisoner who escaped from the custody of Elgin Mental Health Center security personnel earlier in the day.
Police said Jesse Vega, 33, of the 5000 block of West Higgins in Chicago, jumped out of a stopped vehicle around 8 a.m. Wednesday near Summit Street and Dundee Avenue on Elgin's northeast side while being transported to court in Lake County.
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Shortly before 4 p.m., a woman on the 400 block of Prospect noticed a man leaving her backyard and get into a cab, Elgin Cmdr. Glenn Theriault said. The woman immediately called police.
At the same time, the cabdriver, who had been alerted by police, became suspicious and pulled over within that same block of Prospect, stalling Vega until police arrived.
He was taken into custody without a struggle, still wearing handcuffs on one wrist, Theriault said.
"The whole situation was contained to just a few blocks," he said. "We presume he was just hiding out in the area." More than 50 police officers from multiple departments helped in the search. Elgin police received numerous calls of potential sightings of Vega and the department's Facebook page exploded with comments on the post about his escape, which was shared by more than 2,800 people.
While Vega was on the loose the nearby Boys and Girls Club of Elgin and Elgin Academy were on lockdown. Police said an automated alert went out to nearby residents, and police walked the area to notify businesses of the escape.
Wednesday morning Vega was traveling to a mental fitness hearing on charges related to a brutal attack on his girlfriend in 2013 in the parking lot of Six Flags Great America in Gurnee.
The girlfriend suffered a fractured skull and swelling on her brain and was admitted into the intensive care unit of an area hospital, said Cynthia Vargas, the Lake County state's attorney's office spokeswoman. She survived the attack.
As a result, Vega was charged with two counts of aggravated domestic battery, two counts of aggravated battery with great bodily harm, two counts of aggravated battery in a public place, then single counts of obstruction of justice and aggravated driving under influence while on a suspended or revoked license, Lake County Assistant State's Attorney Mary Kay Foy said.
If found guilty of the charges, he could face up to 30 years in prison.
Foy said Vega was due Wednesday to appear before Lake County Judge Victoria Rossetti at the Waukegan courthouse.
"He was last found to be unfit for trial last week, but he was due to come here for another fitness evaluation this morning," Foy said.
Vargas said Rossetti ruled there was a "bona fide doubt" of Vega's fitness to stand trial April 14, so he was sent to EMHC. He was returned to Lake County every couple of weeks for a status of fitness and to determine if the state could proceed with its case. It was determined July 2 that Vega remained unfit to stand trial. He was scheduled for a hearing Wednesday for that same status of fitness. The exact diagnosis of the fitness, however, is not being released.
It's unclear how Vega escaped Wednesday morning.
"He was handcuffed in the front seat when he escaped EMHC custody," Elgin Police Cmdr. Ana Lalley said.
Januari Smith, a spokeswoman for Illinois Department of Human Services which oversees the Elgin Mental Health Center, said the agency could not comment on its security protocols for transporting prisoners.
Smith said she could not say how many security personnel were with Vega in the car as it left the state psychiatric facility or whether they were armed.
"That would be a security risk," Smith said. "We're looking into all that making sure that all protocols were followed. We are conducting an internal review."
Vega, who also goes by the alias of Jesse Ortiz, has three previous convictions, one out of Cook County, Vargas said.
For his flight Wednesday, the Kane County State's Attorney charged Vega with one count of escape. He's expected to appear in bond court Thursday morning.
Elgin police credit Vega's capture to community partnerships that led to extensive communication with residents via Facebook and the city's Code Red program, as well as police efforts to notify cab companies and others who may be in the area.
"That had a direct and significant impact in taking this man into custody," Theriault said. "It's community partnerships that brought an individual into custody who should remain in custody."
• Daily Herald staff writer Sara Hooker contributed to this report.