01/26/2016 03:40 EST | Updated 01/26/2016 04:59 EST

Harley Lay, Alberta Prisoner, Helped To Escape By Masked Gunman

The prisoner escaped on his way to a medical appointment.


PEACE RIVER, Alta. — It was a scene right out of a TV crime drama when an armed, masked gunman stopped two Alberta correctional officers and freed a prisoner on his way to a medical appointment.

Mounties say guards were escorting Harley John Lay, 29, to the hospital in Peace River on Monday when they were confronted in the hospital parking lot.

The gunman and Lay jumped into a minivan driven by a third man and the trio hightailed it out of town.

Their flight from the law was short-lived — RCMP pulled over a vehicle at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday near Fort Nelson, B. C., and arrested Lay and two other individuals.

Peace River RCMP Const. Nicole Viergutz said Lay "does have matters before the courts,'' but declined to discuss his background further.

Court records indicate he most recently was behind bars facing numerous charges, including unlawful confinement, dating back to last July. He also faced a charge of escaping lawful custody in 2011 and has previously served time for drug trafficking.

Alberta correctional officers do not carry firearms.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees informed its members about what happened on the union website.

Both guards involved have been offered counselling and a union leader said the escape highlights the dangers corrections workers face every day.

"It is a dangerous job. You never know what's going to happen. We're fortunate nobody got hurt and that's due to the professionalism of these officers,'' said Erez Raz, a union vice-president and a correctional officer himself.

Raz said correctional officers have not been equipped with firearms since the 1970s and the decision is totally up to the Alberta government. He doesn't think it would have made a difference in this case.

"If someone comes up to you with a gun to your head and says, 'Give me what you have,' I don't think I'm going to pull a gun on him knowing he's got a gun facing me,'' Raz said.

"It would have caused a lot more damage than good. It could have escalated right from there.''

The union has called for a full report, including a "hazard assessment'' of what occurred.

"It's where the employer sits down with the affected workers to debrief, and look at what occurred, and identify the risks and the controls that will be put into control as a consequence of what occurred,'' said health and safety representative Dennis Malayko.

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