Facebook bus robbery suspect ordered to state hospital

Richard Joseph Espinoza, 41, of Bay Point, is accused of stealing an iPad from a Facebook bus driver then leading police on a car chase across the Dumbarton Bridge.

A man who said he was being chased by Russians after leading Menlo Park police on a car chase last June has been ordered to a state hospital until he can be declared fit to stand trial, the district attorney said Monday.

Richard Joseph Espinoza, 41, of Bay Point, is accused of stealing an iPad from a Facebook bus driver queuing up to take employees home June 28, 2016, then speeding so recklessly in a vehicle across the Dumbarton Bridge that police gave up the chase when he reached the Fremont side.

The bus driver said Espinoza appeared to be holding a gun when he demanded the iPad, but police never located a gun during or after the pursuit. While fleeing, Espinoza rear-ended a vehicle and hit the center divider, according to police.

Roughly 30 minutes later, Union City police received a report of a possible carjacking and located Espinoza and a 38-year-old female passenger, who were apprehended after a foot chase. At the time of the incident, San Mateo County prosecutors said Espinoza was on bail for two 2015 cases out of San Mateo — one for possession of methamphetamine and the other for grand theft.

Although Espinoza was remanded to the custody of the Department of State Hospitals and he is expected to be placed at Napa State Hospital, he remains in the psychiatric unit of the county jail because of a lack of available beds. As such, the case was continued to Sept. 1 for a conference to weigh whether he had been transported to the hospital or not.

“If you think there’s a crowding issue at state prisons, state hospitals are even more crowded,” District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

Wagstaffe said the suspect will be monitored at the jail 24/7 but cannot receive medication until he is transferred to a state hospital, which the district attorney said could happen at any time. In court Friday, the judge ordered that hospital workers can force medication on Espinoza if they feel it’s necessary.

Espinoza was declared unfit for trial by two court-appointed physicians. Wagstaffe said they determined he might not have a full understanding of court proceedings and might not harbor the ability to assist his attorney.

Espinoza was charged July 5, 2016, with robbery, evading police and hit-and-run involving injury, all felonies. He was also charged with driving under the influence with a prior and driving with a suspended or revoked license for chemical test refusal or other DUI offenses, both misdemeanors. Wagstaffe said it will likely take between three months to a year once at the hospital for Espinoza to be declared competent.

If the suspect never regains competency, the district attorney said, given the robbery charge, his maximum hospital stay “should be about six years. … At the end of six years, if he’s not better his case gets referred for conservatorship.”