In Short

‘Extremely dangerous’ Oregon State Hospital patient escapes in state van 

By: - August 31, 2023 1:47 pm

The Oregon Health Authority oversees the Oregon State Hospital in Salem. (Oregon Health Authority)

A handcuffed and shackled Oregon State Hospital patient with pending felony charges stole a van and escaped from the state-run psychiatric hospital in Salem late Wednesday night, commandeering it southbound on Interstate 5.

The patient remains at large, and the van is still missing. The Capital Chronicle contacted Oregon State Police early Thursday, after hearing about the escape. The agency didn’t respond but three and a half hours later put out a release.

It identified the patient as Christopher Lee Pray, 39, who faces several charges in Multnomah County, including felony attempted aggravated murder, first-degree robbery, first-degree assault and felon in charge of a firearm. Court records show Pray’s been sentenced to prison on previous felonies dating to 2007, and was even convicted of having a weapon while in prison.

“Pray is considered ‘extremely dangerous’ and should not be approached,” Oregon State Police said.

Earlier Wednesday, Pray was admitted to the state hospital under an aid-and-assist order, which is used to get defendants mental health treatment so they can aid in their defense in court. Later that evening, he got into  an altercation with another patient and needed to be transported to a different hospital emergency department for medical care, an Oregon State Hospital spokesperson said. State officials didn’t identify the hospital where Pray was treated. 

When he returned to the state hospital at about 10:30 p.m., he took over a van and drove away, said Amber Shoebridge, a spokesperson for Oregon State Hospital.

Christopher L. Pray (Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office)

Pray led police on a high-speed chase southbound on Interstate 5 in a state-owned white 2016 Dodge Caravan. Police terminated the pursuit for safety reasons.

Exactly how Pray managed to escape is murky. Oregon State Police said Pray was “fully restrained” with leg shackles, a belly chain, handcuffs and a restraint when he took off in the van.

Word of the escape spread quickly among hospital staffers, who contacted the Capital Chronicle with details about the case. Speaking on condition of anonymity, staffers said the driver left the keys in the vehicle and exited to unload the patient. At that point, Pray slid behind the front wheel and started to drive away. A state hospital employee still in the vehicle jumped out of the vehicle to escape, staffers said.

Shoebridge didn’t immediately address that detail when the Capital Chronicle inquired, but later acknowledged the employee was injured. She said the state hospital will conduct an internal investigation into the incident.

Among aid-and-assist cases, patients facing felony charges are kept the longest – generally six months.

It’s not the only escape from the state hospital, but it may be among the most dramatic. At the state hospital’s smaller Junction City campus, a patient escaped while on a group outing in December 2021, sparking a federal inspection and findings of patient safety concerns, The Lund Report reported.

It’s uncertain how many escapes the state hospital has experienced. Shoebridge declined to provide any figures and suggested the Capital Chronicle file a public records request.

Police said officials are uncertain of his whereabouts because he also has ties to the Portland region. At the time of his escape, he was wearing a white T-shirt, maroon sweatpants and black rubber slippers.

Law enforcement urge the public not to approach Pray and to call 911 if they see him or the van, which has a yellow license plate number: E265614.

Pray is 6 feet tall and weighs 170 pounds, with brown hair and eyes. He is a white male and has stitches on his upper lip. He also has tattoos: “PRAY” on the right arm; “S” on the right forearm; and possibly “supreme” on his neck.

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Ben Botkin
Ben Botkin

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. Ben Botkin has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report. Botkin has won multiple journalism awards for his investigative and enterprise reporting, including on education, state budgets and criminal justice.

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