Robbery gone wrong: Teen gets stuck in veterinary hospital's HVAC

19-year-old spends 11 hours in ventilation system before employees find him the next morning.
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Sep 30, 2013

On her day off, Sept. 16, Barbara Clingman, practice manager at Small Animal Hospital in Milwaukee, was at her house an hour away from the clinic when she got a frantic call from her employees. For the first 40 minutes of the staff’s shift, they had dismissed sounds thought to be from children playing across the street. Then one employee went into the bathroom. A disembodied voice no longer seemed distant—someone was screaming, “Help!”

Ten employees searched for the source of the sound to no avail, so they called 911. The police found 19-year-old Shane H. Ray trapped in the recovery unit of the building’s ventilation system.

The fire department cut Ray out of the ventilation unit. Trapped for roughly 11 hours, he emerged naked and bleeding. “He climbed on the roof at 9 p.m. the night before, took his clothes off and climbed in our ventilation system to try to steal morphine and ketamine,” Clingman says. “But he got stuck and we found him in a three-feet-by-two-feet space.”

Clingman says Ray started crawling one direction, but the shaft narrowed and he turned around. He then fell 10 feet through the ventilation system to the ground level in the recovery unit. “There’s a halo of three-inch screws every four feet in the ventilation so he came out with a lot of scratches,” Clingman says.

However, Ray in turn inflicted quite a bit of damage on the hospital’s ventilation system, which Clingman estimated at more than $5,000. “He had a claw hammer and a flashlight and tried to claw his way out with no success,” she says. “If he’d hammered on the other side, he probably would have gotten out.” She says Ray panicked “like a squirrel caught in a box.”

This wasn’t Ray’s first attempt to burglarize a business through an HVAC system, Clingman was told by police. He had previously targeted a restaurant and was found by responding officers two blocks away covered in grease. Ray was released on a signature bond.

Clingman says the experience was unnerving for the staff, but they did learn from it. From now on, Clingman says she’ll keep some controlled substances in a safe, so if someone does break in—say a more successful naked 19-year-old—the clinic won’t be caught with its pants down.