Judie Dike was walking to her Kia Stinger in the parking lot of Providence Mission Hospital Laguna Beach last fall when a maskless woman appeared suddenly, wedging herself between the 77-year-old and the car.
Dike looked down at the petite woman—her eyes wide and face dotted with pink splotches—who demanded her purse. The Laguna Niguel resident thought someone tried pranking her but quickly realized it wasn’t a joke.
The woman told Dike she had a knife and gun and that her boyfriend was watching them and would shoot if she didn’t hand over the large taupe bag. She also motioned to a gray object in her hand.
The woman grabbed Dike’s purse from one side as she held onto the other side. After struggling over the handbag for a few seconds, she opened the driver’s side door and got in.
“After I yelled for help she frantically slid into the car and grabbed my purse, threw it on the passenger side seat and, hanging on to the open car door handle with her left hand, pushed the start button on the car,” Dike said.
At just over five-feet-tall, the woman didn’t fit in the seat position and scrunched down. She fumbled with the gear shift before she floored out of the parking space. Dike’s left arm was clipped by the open driver’s door and she was thrown to the side of the sports car. Her head smashed the pavement. The woman backed the car into a tree, threw it in drive and sped off.
“I could see the undercarriage of her car and I could see how close she was to running over me when she drove forward,” Dike said.
A retired paramedic and his wife attended to a gash where the right side of Dike’s head hit the pavement. She also suffered multiple bruises and scrapes along her entire body.
The Laguna Beach police officer who responded told Dike her attacker was likely “another one from rehab.”
San Diego police officers apprehended Madison Victoria Root, 24, of Rancho Santa Fe and a male associate at gunpoint a few hours after the carjacking on Oct. 21, 2020 while the duo was stopped at a convenience store. The man was released because he wasn’t connected to the crime, authorities said. Laguna Beach police were able to locate them by pinging Dike’s cell phone, still inside the stolen car, authorities said.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has charged Root with multiple felonies including, carjacking, robbery in the second degree, kidnapping, assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury, and elder abuse. She’s in custody at Theo Lacy Jail with bail set a $500,000.
Root faces 15 years in prison if convicted on all charges, said Kimberly Edds, a spokesperson for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
In 2015, Root was photographed by the Rancho Santa Fe Review wearing a strapless white ballgown alongside her parents at the National Charity League San Diego del Norte Chapter’s Senior Recognition Ceremony. It’s unclear what lead her from a black-tie gala in a privileged San Diego County suburb to an Orange County jail cell.
The carjacking after Dike’s annual physical may have passed as a private matter during a global pandemic if she received different answers during a meeting with a hospital administrator last November. Instead, Dike shared her story last month at a Laguna Beach City Council meeting and it’s reinvigorated public safety concerns stemming from the hospital’s Chemical Dependency and Behavior Health Units.
“We were all just shocked and deeply saddened by the event and are continuing conversations because we want everyone in the community to feel safe at all times,” Mission Hospital spokesperson Carrie Miller told the Independent.
Hospital administrators haven’t followed Dike’s recommendation to install 14 security cameras at strategic points inside and outside South Coast Medical Center. She also wants to see a security guard present in the lot during hospital hours. After living in South Laguna for about 17 years, Dike is compelled to stand up for the community even though she no longer resides in town.
At this time, Dike said she’s not interested in suing Providence Health for her injuries. She just wants the hospital to implement her recommendations to protect patients, staff, and the public.
“I’m not interested in the money,” she said. “I don’t want to go through the heartache.”
Four months after the carjacking, Mission’s administration is still mulling security upgrades.
“We have not yet installed a camera but a final decision has not been made,” Miller said.
Hospital officials are planning to discuss security matters with city and police officials at a meeting set for March 10, she said. Councilmember Peter Blake said he was invited to join as the council liaison for Mission Hospital.
Providence Mission Hospital Laguna Beach’s Chemical Dependency Unit is a voluntary unit where patients check themselves in and are free to checkout and leave the program. The Behavioral Health Unit is a locked ward, where patients may not come in and out freely.
Due to healthy privacy laws, a hospital spokesperson was unable to confirm whether Root was ever a patient. Prosecutors also declined comment on whether investigators learned she was a patient right before the carjacking.
Councilmember Toni Iseman and Blake are both worried about patients walking out of units treating substance abuse and mental health.
“This is a real opportunity for the hospital to reassure the community that they’re aware of the concerns of the residents and show them that they’re doing everything they can to make them feel safe,” Iseman said.
Blake added that he wants commitments from the hospital to stop further expansion of drug and mental health rehabilitation services, beef up security, and continue conversations about the hospital’s future operations. He also believes psychiatric patients transported from adjacent cities need to be returned upon discharge.
“There’s no limit to what I’m willing to do to make sure this hospital protects the quality of life of our residents,” Blake said.
While her bruises have faded since the carjacking, Dike said she still has trouble using her left arm. After Christmas, she learned she’s living with post-traumatic stress but has found purpose in her trauma by advocating for institutional changes at Mission Hospital.
“I have worked hard and feel gratified to have been able to give of myself for most of my life in helping others through volunteer activities including my work of over 25 years with Assistance League of Laguna Beach,” Dike wrote in an impact statement to prosecutors.
Her carjacking might be the only incident to happen in the hospital’s parking lot but it won’t be the last, she said.
“I’m not pointing the finger at the hospital for these problems but I do think that if they want to have this facility they need to do something to protect the public,” Dike said.
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