But don't blame the hospital.
Hospital patients are free to leave whenever they want -- and in this case, murder suspect Terrence Riley left the hospital ostensibly to smoke a cigarette off campus, as MCG Health Inc. is a smoke-free facility.
He simply chose not to come back -- and authorities searched for him until, luckily, he returned to the emergency room early Tuesday morning. Thankfully, an Aiken, S.C., police officer at the hospital on an unrelated matter happened to recognize Riley.
Riley is suspected in a home invasion in Ridge Spring, S.C., in which the resident, Jerry Tyler, was shot to death. Riley was being treated for shooting injuries allegedly tied to the home invasion.
Aiken County, S.C., officials said they felt safe leaving Riley unguarded and not under arrest at the hospital because of his injuries, which they said were critical. Ultimately, though, it's clear Riley was in much better shape than that; in fact, our information indicates he was in good condition.
Regardless, Aiken County apparently decided not to place Riley under arrest while he was in the hospital in order to avoid being responsible for his medical bills.
We appreciate government officials who try to cut down on costs. But in this case, it was a huge mistake. There are just some corners you don't cut. And keeping watch on suspected killers is one of them.
In our view, Aiken County should have bitten the bullet, placed Riley under arrest immediately, and absorbed the bill.
Instead, officials let a murder suspect walk out of a hospital -- and then tried to blame the hospital.
Let's be clear: Mr. Riley's freedom or lack of it was 100 percent the responsibility of the Aiken County Sheriff's Office. It was reckless for them to leave him unguarded, and unfair to try to shift that responsibility onto caregivers -- who went to medical school, not the police academy.
MCG Health was really the victim in this case. Consider: When a law enforcement agency dodges a medical bill like that, it becomes the hospital's liability.
So let's sum up: Aiken County sheriff's officers left a murder suspect unguarded and not under arrest at MCG Health -- and then talked about what the hospital should have done. Sorry; it simply was not the hospital's job to watch this guy, only to treat him.
Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt is a stand-up guy. We think he should make it clear that the whereabouts of violent criminal suspects under his agency's care and control aren't anyone else's responsibility.