Willamette Valley News, Friday 1/7 – Walterville Elementary Remains Closed Due to Flooding, Sweet Home House Destroyed in Fire

The latest news stories and stories of interest in the Willamette Valley from the digital home of Southern Oregon, from Wynne Broadcasting’s WillametteValleyMagazine.com

Friday, January 7, 2022

Willamette Valley Weather

Today– Rain, mainly before 10am. Snow level 3600 feet lowering to 2300 feet in the afternoon . High near 49. West wind 7 to 14 mph, with gusts as high as 21 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%.

Saturday– Mostly cloudy, then gradually becoming sunny, with a high near 48. Light south southeast wind.

Sunday– Mostly sunny, with a high near 49. Light and variable wind.

Monday– A 20 percent chance of rain after 10am. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 49.

Tuesday– A slight chance of rain. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 54.

An atmospheric river is bringing major precipitation from the ocean toward the Pacific Northwest. Heavy rain is forecast for Oregon and Washington today, and that’s expected to melt snow that remains in lower elevation hills.

The National Weather Service has flood watches and warnings posted for both states. Residents are being told to prepare for many creeks and rivers that could flood later this week.

Southwest winds 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 50 mph expected California, Modoc County along the Warner Mountain Range. In Oregon, mostly the high terrain of Northeast Klamath County and Winter Rim in Western Lake County Until 7 PM PST this evening.

Gusty winds could blow around unsecured objects. Tree limbs could be blown down and a few power outages may result. Snowfall amounts of 0.5 to 1 inch along highway locations combined with the winds could lead to difficult driving conditions from blowing snow creating visibility reductions.

* View the hazard area in detail at https://www.wrh.noaa.gov/map/?wfo=mfr

Walterville Elementary Remains Closed Due to Flooding

Walterville Elementary will remain closed Friday as dozens of school district facilities staff members and contractors work to clear water from the building.

The district hopes to be able to reopen the school Monday. Springfield Public Schools will update students, their families and staff as they learn more.

A school employee arrived early Thurday morning and found several inches of water in the building.

The library, office and at least 10 classrooms sustained water damage.

District staff initially believed nearby Potter Creek was to blame, but the source of the water remains uncertain. The water appears to be arriving from the east, a district spokeperson said.

Families and staff have been informed classes are canceled. All other Springfield Public Schools facilities are operating on their regular schedule.

School district staff and private contractors are responding to the school Thursday.

“We do not have a damage estimate, as we are still in the process of inspecting the school,” the district said in a statement. “The District is asking individuals, families, and staff to not come to the school because we want crews to have full access.”

Sweet Home House Destroyed in Fire

A fire destroyed a house on Highway 228, just west of Sweet Home on Thursday morning, Jan. 6, according to a news release from the Sweet Home Fire District. The house was unoccupied.

Photo courtesy of Sweet Home Fire District

A passerby initially reported the fire at around 3:43 a.m. after noticing flames coming from the second-story of the structure. A first-alarm assignment was issued for fire crews.

The Sweet Home Fire District responded with one engine, one ambulance, two water tenders, a ladder truck and three chief officers, according to the news release.

The first unit arrived on scene at around 3:54 a.m. At this time, the house was reportedly “heavily-involved with flames 10 to 12 feet above the roof and venting out of the windows,” according to the release.

The unit requested a second-alarm assignment. This led to an additional water tender, a pumper tender, a chief officer from Lebanon Fire, a water tender from Brownsville and a water tender and chief officer from Mohawk Valley Fire to be called in.

The structure’s instability paired with the heavy fire resulted in personnel fighting the flames from the exterior of the building. A ladder truck was utilized and was successful. The news release notes the role mutual aid played in maintaining an adequate water supply in an area that did not have a hydrant.

At this time, the cause of the fire is unknown. However, according to the Sweet Home Fire District, the cause is believed to be a failure of the chimney lining and a buildup of creosote which led to a chimney fire that spread to the building.

UPDATE : Pedestrian Killed By Train Thursday Morning

 Eugene Police are investigating after a pedestrian was hit and killed by a train early Thursday morning.

“Central Lane 911 received a call at 3:27 a.m. today, January 6, regarding a fatal crash between a pedestrian and train at Railroad Boulevard and North Polk Street,” police said. “Eugene Police responded, as well as Lane County Medical Examiner. The crash is under investigation.”

Authorities have not released the person’s identity.

Officers and firefighters found the victim’s body along the tracks near North Polk and Railroad Avenue. There are homeless camps in the area.

ODOT Has Reopened Several Highways

The Oregon Department of Transportation says it has reopened several highways that were closed earlier this week amid heavy snow. Highways 138E, 62, and 230 are all back open to traffic, the agency said. Crews from southwest Oregon had been working to plow the deep snow, remove fallen trees, and clear slides throughout the three-day

ODOT asked travelers to continue watching out for crews and equipment as they keep working to widen the narrow roadways. Through Wednesday morning, Highway 138E was closed between Glide and Toketee, and from Toketee to the intersection with Highway 97.

All of Highway 230 remained closed, and Highway 62 was closed from Prospect north to the intersection with Highway 230. Several highways through the Cascades of Southern Oregon remained closed on Tuesday morning after being shut down Monday amid heavy snow.

The Oregon Department of Transportation says that crews are working to get them back open later in the day. ODOT originally predicted that all or some sections of the three highways could be reopened later on Tuesday, “depending on weather.” Regardless, transportation officials warned travelers to be prepared for severe winter conditions in the Cascade mountain passes.

An earlier closure on Green Springs Highway (OR-66) between Ashland and Keno was already reopened to traffic, while Highway 140E remains closed between Adel and the Nevada border.

Oregon reports 7,615 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 9 new deaths

PORTLAND, Ore. — There are nine new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 5,728, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reported at 12:01 a.m. today.

OHA reported 7,615 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 as of 12:01 a.m. today, bringing the state total to 449,267.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (17), Benton (317), Clackamas (756), Clatsop (45), Columbia (49), Coos (219), Crook (41), Curry (42), Deschutes (159), Douglas (91), Grant (14), Hood River (27), Jackson (441), Jefferson (62), Josephine (105), Klamath (70), Lake (4), Lane (623), Lincoln (74), Linn (204), Malheur (33), Marion (501), Morrow (34), Multnomah (1,598), Polk (275), Sherman (2), Tillamook (21), Umatilla (306), Union (27), Wallowa (1), Wasco (21), Washington (1,333) and Yamhill (103).

Media briefing on COVID-19

OHA will host a press conference at 11 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 7, about COVID-19 in Oregon. Speakers will include Oregon State Health Officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill and Peter Graven, Ph.D, director of the Oregon Health & Science University Office of Advanced Analytics. The public is invited to watch the press conference on Youtube. Members of the media can participate in the press conference by joining this Zoom link.

Oregon Hits New Record of COVID Cases For 4th Consecutive Day, More than Doubles Old Mark

Oregon hit a new record of COVID cases for the fourth consecutive day Thursday, more than doubling its old mark.

Health officials reported 7,615 new COVID cases Thursday.

Oregon averaged 4,001 COVID cases the past week. That figure is up 162 percent from just last Thursday. The infections are being driven by the Omicron variant, which is highly contagious, although less severe. Much of the spread occurred since Christmas.

Almost 25 percent of the state’s reported COVID tests were positive on Thursday, as well.

Despite the record number of cases, Oregon reported some of the lowest rates of cases in the nation during the latest COVID surge.

Health officials in some of Oregon’s largest counties, such as Multnomah, where Portland is, said the number of COVID cases and hospitalizations will probably continually increase over the next several weeks.

Unlike past waves, the growth rate of cases has far outpaced COVID hospitalizations. However, local scientists estimate that roughly 1,650 coronavirus patients will be hospitalized statewide on the predicted peak in late January, which would surpass the Delta surge.

Klamath County Investigators Identify Suspect In Unsolved 1978 Double Murder with Help of DNA

The long-cold case of a couple murdered near Lake of the Woods in 1978 at last has something approaching closure, thanks in large part due to advances in DNA forensics, law enforcement officials in Klamath County announced Thursday.

“There are many ways that law enforcement agencies find out about homicides, which is what we’re talking about today,” said Sheriff Chris Kaber. “Sometimes they find out as they’re happening, sometimes they find out years later, sometimes they find out from citizens’ complaints, and sometimes it starts with a missing persons case. In this particular incidence, it started out with some people out in the woods and they located something that no-one wants to ever come across.”

43 years ago, in mid-November, deputies from the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office responded to an area near Lake of the Woods and what was then called Dead Indian Road, looking into the reported discovery of skeletal remains. The caller had been out cutting firewood when he came upon the bodies.

Deputies found the body of a man, later identified as 19-year-old Kirk Wiseman of Southern California. The remains of a small dog were found near him. Investigators returned the next day for a more thorough search of the area and soon found another body, later identified as 17-year-old Cynthia Frayer.

Both Wiseman and Frayer had been shot multiple times in the head with a small-caliber gun. There were also signs that Frayer had been sexually assaulted.

Wiseman and Frayer had been hitchhiking through Oregon, possibly to visit Crater Lake, when they disappeared sometime in September of 1978.

Though investigators followed a number of leads at the time — reaching out to other agencies for help, including the FBI — nothing solid materialized. The case went cold.

By 2011, the murders of Wiseman and Frayer were KCSO’s oldest unsolved case. Around this time, a detective assigned to the cold case began going through the evidence with an eye for newly available technology, including DNA.

Finally, in 2019, several items of Frayer’s clothing were submitted to the crime lab in Bend — returning an unknown male DNA sample. It was entered into CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System, but did not return any hits.

Undeterred, the detective now on the case submitted the sample to Parabon Nanolabs — a private company now armed with an impressive pedigree of solving cold cases using genealogical data. Locally, Parabon was involved with identifying the final victim of the Almeda Fire, 55-year-old Derrick Mills, and in the case of Stevie Crawford, a young boy found dead east of Ashland in 1963.

Parabon came back to KCSO with a viable suspect in the early summer of 2021. Detectives managed to get in contact with family members of the suspect, learning that he died in Texas in 1996. For confirmation, the family members agreed to give samples of their own so that investigators could be relatively certain of the match.

The name attached to the DNA found on Frayer’s clothing was Ray Mason Whitson, Jr. According to Sheriff Kaber, Whitson had moved to the Klamath Falls area with his family in 1976 in order to work in the lumber industry, and they reported commonly using Dead Indian Road. Whitson had no other criminal record, Detective Dan Towery said.

Back in 1979, investigators had identified a prime suspect in the case, but it was not Whitson. The man had given the young couple a ride and dropped them off in Grants Pass. He also died in the 1990s, and former Sheriff Carl Burkhart said Thursday that he’d buy that man dinner if he could for the suspicion he endured.

With a suspect identified, but no means of taking him into custody, KCSO said that the case has been suspended. Klamath County District Attorney Eve Costello said she believes she could have convicted Whitson if tried on the evidence now assembled.

I-84 is now fully open both EASTBOUND and WESTBOUND

Smaller slides continue in the Gorge and we’ll continue to monitor the freeway. Conditions remain volatile with continue precipitation and temps dropping below freezing in many parts of the state. Stay alert if traveling through the area. The soil is still very saturated and rain continues. Use caution, and give yourself extra time.

It’s slide-y, slushy and sloppy on aisle I-84 in the Columbia River Gorge this morning due to a debris slide between MP 36 and 37. This means the freeway is closed in both directions between Exit 17 in Troutdale and Exit 62 in Hood River. We expect this to be a lengthy closure. Complicating crew efforts is a jack-knifed truck with a punctured fuel tank at MP 53. No estimate for reopening, so US 26 is the viable detour for connecting Central Oregon to the Portland area. SR 14 in Washington State is closed to vehicles over 10,000 GVW in both directions at MP 17 near the Hood River Bridge until further notice. For updates use TripCheck.com in Oregon and WSDOT’s Real-Time travel map in Washington.

Oregon Officials Reject Nicholas Kristof’s Run for Governor

 Oregon election officials told former New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof he cannot run for governor of the state as he does not meet residency requirements.

The state requires a candidate for governor to have been a “resident within this state” for three years before the election, the Oregon Elections Division said in a statement.

“As Oregon’s chief elections official, it is my responsibility to make sure all candidates on the statewide ballot are qualified to serve if elected,” Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said in the statement.

In a separate statement, Kristof said he would challenge this decision in court and would continue running for governor.

“If Mr Kristof chooses to appeal, the Oregon Elections Division is committed to doing everything possible to allow  Oregon courts to decide  promptly,” Deborah Scroggin, Oregon elections director said.

In October last year, Kristof announced that he was running for governor, saying he hoped to address systemic social issues in the state where he grew up on his family’s sheep and cherry farm.

Kristof, 62, who is from Yamhill, a rural community in western Oregon, said if elected he would tackle homelessness, poverty, drug addiction and inadequate education.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek Resigns to Focus on Run for Governor

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek announced Thursday she will resign from the Legislature to focus on her gubernatorial run. The last day for the longest-tenured speaker in state history will be Jan. 21. Dozens of candidates have filed to run for the spot being vacated by a term-limited Gov. Kate Brown this year. Kotek’s change of strategy was sudden as recently as November her office said she planned to remain in her role through the end of the year.

Oregon State Senator Peter Courtney Announces His Retirement

Courtney announced yesterday he will not be seeking reelection. He says it’s been an honor and a privilege to have been allowed to serve locally on the Salem City Council and in the Legislature for nearly 40 years. He was elected Senate President in 2003 and has served a record 10 years in that post. He’s the longest-serving legislator in state history.

New Rebate in Oregon for Electric or Hybrid Vehicles

Low and moderate income households in Oregon can now get bigger rebates for buying an electric or hybrid vehicle. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality says a new law went into effect on New Year’s Day that increases the rebate by five-thousand dollars.

The previous rebate was 25-hundred dollars, which remains in place. The total rebate can be as much as 75-hundred dollars under the Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebate Program.

Deadly Rabbit Virus

Officials are warning Oregon hunters about a virus that’s deadly to rabbits so they can help avoid spreading the disease. Rabbit hemorrhagic virus is not contagious to humans.

Hunters should avoid areas where they find dead or sick rabbits. Wear gloves when handling rabbits and avoid eating, drinking, or smoking while handling animals.

Rabbits with the virus might have a bloody nose or die suddenly. Deaths of wild rabbits should be reported to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Ground Beef RECALL due to Possible E. Coli Contamination

Interstate Meat Dist. Inc., an Oregon business, is recalling approximately 28,356 pounds of ground beef products due to the possibility they may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced yesterday.

The raw, ground beef items were produced on Dec. 20, 2021, and bear establishment number “EST. 965” inside the USDA mark of inspection or printed next to the time stamp and use or freeze by date. These items were shipped to retail locations in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.  

Products subject to the recall are all packaged in tubes known as “chubs.” Sold at Walmart, Winco, Albertsons, Krogers, and FredMeyer.

The recall is the result of product that was purchased and analyzed by a third-party laboratory that tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. FSIS determined the results were actionable.

Anyone concerned about an illness should contact a healthcare provider. E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause dehydration, bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps 2–8 days (3–4 days, on average) after exposure the organism. While most people recover within a week, some develop a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This condition can occur among persons of any age but is most common in children under 5-years old and older adults. It is marked by easy bruising, pallor, and decreased urine output. Persons who experience these symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately.

FSIS is concerned that some product may be in consumers’ refrigerators or freezers. Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.

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A 17-year-old was reported missing in Salem and detectives say the teen might be the victim of an online catfishing scheme.

Ezra Mayhugh, 17, was last seen on October 15, 2021 after being dropped off in downtown Salem by a friend, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said. He was reported as a runaway the following day when he did not return home.

Investigators say he might be in Washington or California. They hope to reunite Ezra safely with family members.

He’s described as about 5-foot 11-inches tall, weighing 130 pounds, with blonde hair and brown eyes.

If you have had contact with Mayhugh since October 15 or have other helpful information on his whereabouts, the sheriff’s office asks you to contact Detective M.J. Sphoon at 503-588-6808 or to submit a tip by texting TIPMCSO and your tip to 847411.


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