By RIO YAMAT and ANDREW SELSKY Associated Press
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A man at the center of an intense police search in Oregon after a violent kidnapping last week was released from custody in October 2021 by Nevada prison officials on the same day he was transferred to the state’s custody to serve a kidnapping sentence, authorities said Monday.
Benjamin Obadiah Foster, 36, faced decades in prison in Nevada after he was charged in 2019 with five felonies, including assault and battery. But a deal with Clark County prosecutors allowed him to instead plead guilty to felony and misdemeanor battery, and a judge sentenced him in September 2021 to serve between one and 2 1/2 years in a state prison.
William Quenga, a spokesperson for the Nevada prison system, told The Associated Press in an email that Foster arrived Oct. 18, 2021, at a prison intake facility but was released the same day, because the judge had factored into Foster’s punishment the 729 days he had spent in jail awaiting trial.
That means Foster had served his minimum sentence behind bars but was a half-year from serving the maximum time given by the judge.
Clark County District Judge Tierra Jones and District Attorney Steve Wolfson did not respond to requests for comment.
The victim in the Oregon case was found unconscious and bound in Grants Pass, Oregon, on Jan. 24. She was hospitalized in critical condition and has not regained consciousness since then, said Grants Pass Police Lt. Jeff Hattersley.
The case has rattled residents of Grants Pass, a town of some 40,000 in southwest Oregon next to Interstate 5. Grants Pass Police Chief Warren Hensman told AP that it is “extremely troubling” that Foster wound up being sought for attempted murder in Oregon instead of still being behind bars in Nevada.
Foster narrowly eluded a police raid Thursday in the nearby unincorporated community of Wolf Creek, Oregon, and may have changed his appearance by shaving his beard and hair or changing his hair color, police said.
Police initially released a photo of Foster showing him with shoulder-length brown hair, but he had cut it and grown a thicker beard since the photo was made. He may have altered his appearance further since then, Hattersley said.
“We’re getting all kinds of calls about people walking along I-5, they have long beards and long hair,” Hattersley said. “We have a feeling that’s not really what he is looking like at this point.”
Police offered a $2,500 reward Friday for information leading to Foster’s arrest and prosecution. None of the 50 or so tips that have come in, mostly by phone, since then has been solid enough to lead to Foster, who is charged with attempted murder, kidnapping and assault, according to Hattersley.
The Thursday night raid in Wolf Creek, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Grants Pass, involved Grants Pass police, sheriff’s deputies, an Oregon State Police SWAT team and federal agents.
Foster, who had been staying on family property there, slipped away. Forested mountains surround the community, but investigators believe that instead of disappearing solo into the wilderness, Foster had help getting out of the area.
Grants Pass police announced Friday that Foster was using online dating applications to contact unsuspecting people to lure them assisting with his escape or to potentially find new victims. Hattersley said Monday that investigators no longer believe Foster was trying to find more victims but could have been seeking an unwitting person to help him avoid the intensive police manhunt.
“That’s why we put that out there,” he said. “We don’t want someone to unknowingly think that they’re meeting some great guy that’s actually a wanted felon that’s trying to get away.”
Before moving to Oregon, Foster held his then-girlfriend captive inside her Las Vegas apartment for two weeks before she managed to escape in October 2019. Police said the woman suffered seven broken ribs, two black eyes and had been choked to the point of unconsciousness during her captivity.
Foster was released from custody two years later after reaching his deal with Clark County prosecutors.
Selsky reported from Salem, Oregon.