State hospital escapee found stuck in mud of Portland pond

Rescue crews Friday morning found an Oregon State Hospital escapee stuck in mud in a north Portland pond, the Oregon State Police announced in a news release.

Christopher L. Pray, 39, was found over a day after state hospital officials said he hijacked a van belonging to the Salem facility and escaped Wednesday night.

Portland Fire & Rescue and the Portland Police Bureau received a report around 8:17 a.m. Friday of a “potentially deceased person” in a pond at North Force Avenue and North Victory Boulevard in Portland, according to the police statement.

The area is about 54 miles north of the state hospital.

Rescue crews arrived and started talking with the patient as the fire agency notified police that they were not needed. 

“The patient was stuck in the mud, approximately 75 feet from firm ground, and was buried up to their armpits,” the news release said.

Crews used a rope and ladder to remove the patient, which took about an hour.

The patient was transported to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland for an evaluation, where he provided a fake name. But a hospital employee noticed that he resembled the state hospital escapee.

Hospital staff alerted Portland police, who responded and confirmed the patient was Pray. He was arrested and is in the Portland agency’s custody.

State police said in the news release that they are investigating “the details surrounding his escape” and plan to release an additional statement next Tuesday, Sept. 5.

Pray was transferred to the state hospital on Wednesday, Aug. 30, from the Multnomah County Jail in Portland to determine whether he is mentally fit to assist in his own defense against pending criminal charges, including attempted murder.

“That evening, the patient was in an altercation with another patient and needed to be transported to a local emergency department for medical care,” state hospital spokeswoman Amber Shoebridge said in an email Thursday. After returning to the state hospital, “the patient was able to gain control of the van and drive away.”

He escaped around 10:45 p.m., stealing a white 2016 Dodge Caravan, state Police announced in a news release Thursday morning. 

“At the time of his escape, he was fully restrained with leg shackles, a belly chain, handcuffs, and a restraint connecting all three together,” police wrote in the statement.

The agency said Pray eluded law enforcement driving southbound on Interstate 5 Wednesday night, and police stopped pursuing him due to safety concerns.

Court records show Pray has five criminal cases pending in Multnomah County which are on hold pending a determination that he’s fit to aid and assist in his own defense.

A Multnomah County grand jury indicted Pray on May 3 on charges of attempted second-degree murder with a firearm, robbery, assault and unlawful use of a weapon. Court documents say the crimes he is accused of occurred in March 2022.

Shoebridge said Thursday that the state hospital is conducting its own investigation of the incident.

The state hospital cares for about 500 Oregonians with mental illnesses and disabilities who are court-ordered to receive treatment. People unable to understand criminal charges against them or assist in their own defense are supposed to receive treatment at the hospital, allowing them to participate in the criminal justice system and understand their legal rights and responsibilities.


Police search for patient who hijacked state hospital van

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.