- Associated Press - Saturday, June 2, 2018

HIGH POINT, N.C. (AP) - It was the Pizza Hut break-in heard ‘round the world.

Two months ago, when Richard Lee Quintero called 911 and told the dispatcher he was Jesus Christ - and then confessed that he’d just broken into a High Point Pizza Hut, eaten a pizza and drunk a Mountain Dew - the story went viral almost immediately. Ironically, the incident happened four days before Palm Sunday - the date was March 21 - and by that Sunday, people all over the country were crucifying Quintero for his comical late-night adventure.

After all, who could resist chuckling for at least a moment at the notion of a man who gets so drunk that he thinks he’s Jesus, then breaks into a Pizza Hut and scarfs down a pizza and soft drink? He even told the dispatcher he had just arrived from heaven and that he had broken into the restaurant “because I’m Jesus - I can do whatever I want.”

But what quickly became a punch line for much of the country became a punch in the gut for Quintero’s family members, who were profoundly saddened by his escapade. It didn’t tickle their funny bones - it broke their hearts.

“Oh, it was horrible,” says Quintero’s mother, Alice Yorks, who lives in Greensboro. “It was absolutely horrible to hear it.”



You see, they knew the truth about Quintero. They knew he wasn’t drunk that night. They knew exactly why he had claimed to be Jesus and why he had broken into the Pizza Hut.

Quintero knew why, too.

In fact, he told the dispatcher why during that infamous two-minute 911 call in which he had identified himself as Jesus. In which he had said he was “tired of Judases on this earth” and “We’re gonna clean this earth up.” In which he had said he was starving to death and “everybody’s been treating me mean.”

At the end of the call, right before he hung up the phone, with the store’s burglar alarm sounding in the background, Quintero uttered four words that said infinitely more about him than the previous two minutes’ worth of dialogue.

And those are the words Quintero’s family members so desperately want the rest of the country to hear now:

“I’ve got schizophrenia, sir.”

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Quintero, 47, has battled schizophrenia most of his adult life.

Growing up in Iowa, he enjoyed a typical childhood, according to his mother, who describes her son as compassionate, creative, artistic, energetic and fun.

“Normal,” Yorks says.

He showed no signs of mental illness, she says, nor is there any known family history of mental illness.

That changed the day when Quintero, at age 19, was found walking naked in public and claiming he heard voices.

“One mental-health facility indicated Rich was thinking he was John the Baptist and was going to baptize Jesus,” Yorks recalls. “Another place said he was hearing voices, and he thought he was God.”

Initially, Yorks went into denial, placing her son’s medication on top of the refrigerator because she was sure he didn’t need it, but she quickly realized otherwise.

“He would see and hear things in the yard,” she recalls. “I would have to take him out in the yard and walk him around and show him there was nobody there.”

For more than a decade, Quintero managed his illness reasonably well: He took his medications and kept his hallucinations mostly under control. He worked at various jobs. He got married.

Eventually, though, things began to spiral downward. Quintero began experimenting with street drugs and having brushes with the law. The marriage failed. He became increasingly inconsistent with his schizophrenia medication. Eight years ago, Yorks moved her son to Greensboro, where she was living. He moved from place to place - apartment complexes, assisted-living facilities, group homes, a boarding house - but the voices always moved with him.

“Because of his paranoid schizophrenia, he would think there were people behind the walls and he tore down the walls,” Yorks recalls of an incident at one apartment complex.

The less stable he became, the more inconsistent he became with his medication. As a result, the hallucinations multiplied.

“His hallucinations have always been seeing or hearing something that isn’t real,” Yorks says. “Hearing voices is probably the most prevalent, but when his medication’s been out of his system for quite a while, he sees things. He sees people chasing him. He sees demons. One time, he jumped out of a two-story apartment window when he saw bad people trying to bury me in the concrete. That’s Rich’s reality when he’s not medicated.”

Most recently, just before the Pizza Hut incident, Quintero had been staying in a room at the Budget Inn in Greensboro, but he told his mother he was asked to leave because he’d been having too many people stay with him, she says. The night before he broke into Pizza Hut, he apparently stayed at the Open Door Ministries shelter in High Point.

Had he spent another night at the shelter, it’s likely most of us never would’ve heard of Richard Lee Quintero. Instead, though, he found himself wandering the streets that next night, he ended up at 804 N. Main St. - a Pizza Hut restaurant, long since closed for the night - and he was about to receive his 15 minutes of fame.

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It’s what happened after the Pizza Hut incident that troubles Yorks now.

Yes, people mocked her son for his seemingly sacrilegious claims that night - and that was painful enough for a mother to experience - but then she had to watch in anguish as Quintero spent more than a month and a half incarcerated, being treated more like a criminal than a man with a mental illness, she says.

“After 47 days, they finally did a psychiatric evaluation,” Yorks says with obvious exasperation in her voice. “This is not to point fingers - it’s not my purpose to put the blame on anyone in particular - but I don’t understand why it took 47 days to get a psychiatric evaluation and finally get Rich moved to a psychiatric hospital.”

According to Yorks, her son initially spent time at the High Point Jail, isolated in a cell for most hours of the day. He spent about a week in the hospital after self-amputating part of his tongue - self-mutilation is not uncommon among schizophrenics - but even there, he was handcuffed to the bed, she says. From there, Quintero was transferred to the maximum-security Central Prison facility in Raleigh.

When he finally underwent a psychiatric evaluation and was found incompetent, he was moved to Central Regional Hospital in Butner, one of three state psychiatric hospitals in North Carolina, and he remains there for the time being. Meanwhile, the charges stemming from the Pizza Hut break-in have been dropped.

According to Yorks, her son wants to stay at the psychiatric facility.

“He says it’s safe there, that it’s too hard for him out in the world,” she says softly. “It breaks my heart that he believes he can be safe and survive in a psychiatric hospital and not anywhere else. But I also know that the longer he’s there, the more consistent he’ll be on medication and the more stable he’ll become. So I believe in my heart a long-term treatment plan is best for Rich - I’m just hoping and praying that that materializes.”

Quintero’s case is not an isolated one in North Carolina, where the number of hospital beds for the mentally ill ranks near the bottom in the country.

“The problem is that there’s a gap in service,” explains Dr. Kim Soban, clinical director of Mental Health Associates of the Triad, a mental-health advocacy agency based in High Point.

“A lot of these clients that are severely mentally ill have trouble navigating the system once they get out of jail, so we need more case management to help put them where they need to be. And a second piece to that is that we no longer have as many psychiatric hospitals as we used to, like Dorothea Dix.”

Dorothea Dix Hospital was a psychiatric hospital in Raleigh that closed several years ago.

As a result, Soban continues, more mentally ill individuals are being incarcerated rather than treated.

“Bottom line, the jails have become psychiatric hospitals,” she says. “More and more of these clients are ending up in jail, and that’s not where they need to be. We need more resources. For many of these folks, they have committed crimes, but if they had the resources they needed and the proper treatment, we would not be seeing them in jail anywhere near as much as we do.”

Yorks could not agree more, and she’s grateful that her son’s widespread exposure, while unfortunate and heartbreaking, has given her a platform to advocate for change.

“I think through Rich’s story, people are starting to see that there is a serious issue with the lack of treatment for the mentally ill,” she says. “They see that he’s a real person. He’s not just a comical sound bite - he’s a real person who has a mental illness.”

And for the state to incarcerate him rather than treat him? That, she says, is insane.

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Information from: High Point Enterprise, http://www.hpenews.com

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