- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) - A patient who was with a group of other patients being escorted by staff at Washington’s largest psychiatric hospital escaped Monday and was out for more than an hour before being caught, authorities said.

The 31-year-old male patient at Western State Hospital went missing at about 1:45 p.m., said Lakewood Police Lt. Chris Lawler. Hospital staff discovered that he was gone when they reached their destination, he said.

The patient was being held on a 180-day civil commitment out of Cowlitz County, Lawler said.

“He was considered gravely disabled and flagged as a threat to himself and others,” Lawler said. “We were also told he was on active supervision from the Department of Corrections.”

Hospital security began a search where he was last seen near the Steilacoom library. He was eventually spotted and taken into custody at about 3:05 p.m. and returned to the hospital.

Kathy Spears, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social and Health Services, which oversees the hospital, said it is believed the patient left the escorted group through an unlocked door while being taken from a treatment area to a fenced outside activity zone.

In a statement, Cheryl Strange, chief executive officer for the hospital, said information about the incident was still being collected.

Monday’s escape follows the April 6 escape of two dangerous patients, including one who was accused of torturing a woman to death. One was caught the next morning but the other made it to Spokane and was on the run for two days before being caught.

At the time, officials said it was a rare occurrence. But an investigation by The Associated Press found that there have been 185 escapes or walk-aways from the 800-bed psychiatric hospital since 2013.

A review of police records revealed that patients bolted out of doors, jumped over fences, crawled out windows, ran away from staff and wandered off after being allowed outside the building. Some returned on their own but others were gone for weeks or months. One was found in Colorado, and another in California. Some made it to nearby cities or far away counties.

At least eight patients committed assaults or other crimes while they were out, the AP found. Others were arrested on outstanding warrants.

Most of the patients were being held on involuntary civil commitments after being found by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others due to a mental illness.


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