Family: Suspect in death has mental disorder
The brother of a Kihei man whose actions during a shoplifting incident led to the death of a Kihei store manager expressed his condolences to the manager’s family, saying members of the accused man’s family are “deeply sorrowed” over the victim’s death.
“Our whole family is very sad to hear about this tragic incident, and the news of Mr. (Jamie) Hozaki’s passing is crushing. Our hearts and prayers are with his family at this time,” wrote Noah Schmidt, the older brother of Peter Schmidt, who is charged with manslaughter and robbery in the Dec. 23 incident.
Peter Schmidt is accused of trying to get away in his car and in the process knocking Longs Kihei General Manager Jamie Hozaki to the ground as Hozaki tried to stop him. Hozaki died five days later.
Peter Schmidt is being held on $50,000 bail at Maui Community Correctional Center. His arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 10 in 2nd Circuit Court.
In a phone interview from his home in Washington state Wednesday and in a previous email to The Maui News, Noah Schmidt said that, while he was not trying to make any excuses for the incident, he wanted to explain that his brother is a diagnosed schizophrenic on Social Security disability.
He said that his 29-year-old brother, who had moved to Maui about a month ago, had tried to reach out for help just days before the shoplifting incident. He said his brother had been having episodes but had never been a violent person.
Noah Schmidt said his brother’s illness involved paranoia and that the shoplifting incident may have gone bad when it became a “fight or flight” situation with Peter Schmidt becoming frightened about what was happening.
Several days prior to the shoplifting case at his family’s urging, Peter Schmidt had sought help from authorities and called 911. But unfortunately, his family said, he had not been put into an institution or 24-hour care but instead was given a prescription for medication and released.
Noah Schmidt said he did not know where his brother was taken by first-responders but called for improvements to the mental health system in order to curb “these unfortunate situations in the future.” He said that there have been many cases recently of a “wave of violence” spurred by mental health issues.
Although Noah Schmidt did not name any specific incidents, a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut left 20 students and six educators dead on Dec. 14. Published reports have indicated that the mother of the shooting suspect, Adam Lanza, was trying to place him in a psychiatric ward. Lanza killed his mother and himself in the tragedy.
Responding generally to the Maui incident, Robert Collesano, Mental Health America on Maui director, said that a mental health patient might not automatically be admitted into a clinic or hospital for care because of the limited capacity for mental health patients on Maui.
He said that usually when first-responders are called in a mental health case, patients are taken to the Maui Memorial Medical Center’s Emergency Room. He added that patients who are in “crisis” and threatening to hurt themselves or others are referred to the Molokini Unit, the mental health treatment unit at Maui Memorial Medical Center.
Maui Memorial spokeswoman Carol Clark said in an email that in general when a patient arrives at the hospital’s Emergency Department he or she is assessed and treated as deemed appropriate by a physician.
Due to privacy laws, Clark could not say if the hospital treated Peter Schmidt.
Collesano said things could have been done proactively to help Peter Schmidt’s situation. His mental health providers in his hometown could have made referrals to doctors on Maui, but that would have been contingent on Peter Schmidt telling them he was moving, he said.
Collesano said that sometimes those with mental illness move on a whim.
On Maui, Peter Schmidt could have reached out to organizations such as Mental Health America and or mental health providers to set up a case manager and to receive care, he added.
Collesano said another challenge is that patients may be in denial about their mental state and may not reach out for help until it is too late.
Noah Schmidt said that during his brother’s move to Maui with his girlfriend, he had apparently lost track of his treatment protocols and medications and started to have episodes. He added that he spoke to his brother several times and pleaded with him to turn himself in for help.
“He (Peter Schmidt) was just here without any support at all,” Collesano said.
Help was available, said Collesano. Those who need mental health treatment or help may call the state Department of Health’s 24-hour Adult Mental Health Division Access Program line at (800) 753-6879, where a mental health specialist may be sent out to the person’s home for evaluation, he said.
Noah Schmidt said his brother moved to Maui from Tacoma, Wash., against the family’s advice. Family members couldn’t stop him because he is a 29-year-old adult.
“I think he felt the sunshine and the good weather would help him feel better, and he would enjoy it over there,” Noah Schmidt said.
He added that his brother and girlfriend had found part-time jobs on Maui and had rented an apartment. But recently Peter Schmidt had called his brother telling him about fights with his girlfriend.
Noah Schmidt, who works for an investment company in Seattle, said he and his family tried to reason with his brother, but he was losing control.
“We are all devastated by this tragedy,” Noah Schmidt said.
He added that his brother has called from jail a couple of times and “couldn’t stop crying” because he was coming to grips with what had happened.
In the Dec. 23 incident at about 5:30 a.m., Peter Schmidt had apparently been trying to buy beer before 6 a.m., when it is legal to sell alcohol under state law. So instead of waiting, Peter Schmidt took a 30-pack of beer and tried to flee in his white Ford sedan, according to court testimony.
Hozaki, who had not been scheduled to work that day but had come in to do payroll, pursued the man. Hozaki opened the driver’s door and had his hands on top of the door and told Peter Schmidt to give the beer back, a witness said.
Then Peter Schmidt apparently hit the accelerator and reversed and Hozaki flew off and landed onto the pavement of the parking lot, a witness said.
Hozaki was admitted to Maui Memorial Medical Center on Dec. 23 with a severe brain injury and was pronounced dead Friday.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.