The Great Escape

In this security camera footage, Monterey County Jail inmate Luis Sarabia is shown fleeing. A 911 call about the escape was only briefly investigated, with no follow-up.

The 911 call came in through Monterey County’s Emergency Communications Department, and the unidentified caller sounds worried he won’t be believed. He was driving down Laurel Extension near the jail in Salinas, saw something that looked out of place and thought he should report it.

“It sounds crazy,” he tells the 911 dispatcher, “but I saw a guy in gray shorts, bald headed, like all tattooed, barefoot, no shirt, running across the street and the first thing I thought, was like, ‘Is this an escaped inmate?’

“It sounds crazy,” he says again, “but that’s exactly what it looked like.”

That’s exactly what it looked like because that’s exactly what it was.

The caller, whose name is redacted in a recording of the call and in documents obtained by the Weekly via the California Public Records Act, had just seen Luis Armando Sarabia, a Monterey County jail inmate awaiting trial on murder and conspiracy charges, escape from the facility.

The call came in at 3:06 p.m. on Jan. 18, just about 60 seconds after Sarabia jumped from a rooftop exercise yard onto an adjacent roof and then jumped again across security fencing and down to the pavement. He left his jail uniform in a gutter and took off in his underwear; the 911 caller says the man was “just hoofing across the highway and then leaps over the ditch and starts running across the field… if he kept running he would hit 101.”

A Salinas police officer was dispatched to search, found nothing and the call was marked closed 16 minutes later. It’s unclear if Salinas police contacted the jail. About three hours later, King City police, acting on a tip, called the jail to ask if Sarabia was missing – that’s when jail deputies discovered Sarabia was gone.

Sarabia turned himself in to King City police on Jan. 20, two days later.

The Monterey County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the ongoing investigation into Sarabia’s escape. In a press conference the day after the escape, Sheriff’s spokesperson John Thornburg said it appeared other inmates on the rooftop yard distracted the lone deputy monitoring them, helping Sarabia hide out and then escape.

In response to the Weekly’s Public Records Act request, the county refused to release complete video showing the escape.

Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo has requested the county’s civil grand jury investigate not only Sarabia’s escape, but the escape 13 months earlier of two inmates also accused of murder. The pair, Santos Fonseca and Jonathan Salazar, carved out a hole in a bathroom ceiling that was out of sight of security cameras, climbed through the ceiling panels and to a roof, then escaped. They made it to Mexico, then turned themselves in a few days later at the border crossing.

Alejo also wants the Sheriff’s Office to implement an emergency alert system to inform residents around the jail when an escape happens. After Sarabia’s escape, aggrieved neighbors took their complaints to social media.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions and the public is waiting. It’s two serious breaks in a short period of time and we’re fortunate it wasn’t worse,” Alejo says. “For the sake of transparency, the sheriff needs to come to the public and explain what happened.”

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