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, March 17, 2023
Willamette Valley Weather
Search Warrant Service Lane Co. Sheriff’s Office – 03/15/23 12:21 PM -The Lane County Sheriff’s Office is currently conducting search warrant service on a large-scale criminal marijuana operation. Deputies are presently at multiple undisclosed locations within Lane County. This investigation is in its infancy and additional details cannot be released at this moment. More information will be provided when available. There is no threat to the public.
State of Oregon Grant Funding Helps Lane County Authorities Shut Down Large-Scale Marijuana Operations With Ties to International Criminal Activity
In 2022, the Lane County Sheriff’s Office was awarded a limited amount of funding by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission to investigate and shut down large-scale criminal marijuana manufacturing operations. The Sheriff’s Office has utilized this funding to shut down several operations that have negatively impacted our community and without the grant funding, LCSO would not have the resources needed to conduct the investigations. Investigative resources are focused on large scale operations that illegally sell their product on the black market undermining licensed growers and producers. Often these unregulated operations negatively impact the environment, violate land use laws, construction safety codes, and labor laws. The following case summaries are recent examples of how this limited funding has been used.
LCSO Case # 23-0047
On February 15, 2023, the Lane County Sheriff’s Office, Eugene Police Department, Springfield Police Department, Oregon State Police, Drug Enforcement Administration, Douglas Interagency Narcotic Team and the Federal Bureau of Investigation executed search warrants at 7 locations throughout Lane County after a year long investigation into large criminal marijuana manufacturing and processing ring. During the execution of the warrants law enforcement seized over 16,000 marijuana plants growing in 9 buildings on a property off of Crow Road outside Eugene. Approximately $280,000 in US currency, firearms as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in vehicles and grow equipment were discovered to be directly involved in the operation. During the investigation it was learned that marijuana from the operation was being sold out of state to places including Texas, Minnesota, Arkansas and even as far away as France. One of those arrested was already on probation in Texas after he was caught shipping marijuana through the United States Postal Service.
An illegal professional-scale marijuana refinement facility was located and shut down on W. 12th Ave. in West Eugene as part of the operation. This site is located just feet from the Amazon Canal (See attached photos). The refinement facility contained large volumes of unregulated highly flammable materials that requires a full scale Hazmat crew to safely clean up. The cleanup process is ongoing.
Seven people were arrested for their involvement in the operation and more arrests are expected. Law enforcement was assisted at the scenes by Lane County Code Enforcement, the State of Oregon Watermasters, Eugene/Springfield Fire, and Eugene Code Enforcement. Several code and water violations were located, and the agencies are working to obtain compliance with those responsible.
LCSO Case # 23-0039
On March 15th, 2023, the Lane County Sheriff’s Office, Springfield Police Department, Eugene Police Department, Drug Enforcement Administration, Douglas Interagency Narcotic Teams Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation executed search warrants at numerous residences in the Eugene-Springfield area, a residence in Happy Valley (Clackamas County) and a grow location south of Eugene. Investigators seized over 12,000 marijuana plants and 3600 pounds of processed marijuana. Deputies had become aware of the grow location after several complaints from neighboring properties. The property contained two 60’X300’ buildings built strictly for marijuana production. LCSO began an investigation and through surveillance determined those responsible for the operation in Lane County resided in three houses in Lane County and one house in Happy Valley, Oregon. The three residences in Lane County were searched with the agencies listed above, while the Happy Valley location was secured by the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. During searches of the involved residences, firearms, marijuana and over $400,000 in US Currency was located.
During the investigation deputies learned that several of the suspects had been involved in a 2017 organized criminal ring in King County Washington in what was described as a ‘TCO’ or Transcontinental Drug Trafficking Organization. During the Washington investigation it was learned that over 9 million dollars had been wired to China under different LLC names.
At two of the locations Law Enforcement found occupants unwilling to exit and in one case, at a residence on Q Street, a flash sound diversionary device was used to gain compliance.
Lane County detectives were assisted by Chinese interpreters from the FBI. During interviews it was learned that the workers at the grow had been promised between $3000-$5000 per month. One of the workers indicated he hadn’t been paid for 3-4 months and hadn’t received his promised pay for about one year. The worker indicated that they were made to work 7 days a week and 13 hour days to increase production. The worker told detectives he would like to leave, but couldn’t or he would never be paid for his work. The same worker revealed that the grow location off Dillard Road was the target of two armed robberies in the last two years that went unreported to police. In one of the robberies, the suspects pointed firearms at the workers and told them that they were police officers.
Three people were arrested for their involvement in the operation and investigations are ongoing.
These are very large-scale criminal operations. Individually, each of these grows was consuming approximately $500,000 per year in electricity.
Lane County Code Enforcement and the Oregon State Watermaster’s Office responded to these grow locations and are dealing with numerous violations regarding water use and building safety codes.
LCSO would like to thank all the partner agencies that assisted in these investigations as well as analytical help from the Oregon National Guard. Without the assistance of our partners, LCSO would not have adequate resources to investigate and dismantle these highly complex operations.
PeaceHealth and Lifepoint Rehabilitation Announce Agreement to Build New Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility in Springfield
PeaceHealth and Lifepoint Rehabilitation, a business unit of Lifepoint Health, today announced that they have entered into a joint venture partnership to build and operate a new inpatient rehabilitation facility in Springfield.
With a total of 50 private rooms, the 67,000-square-foot facility will nearly double patient capacity of the existing PeaceHealth acute rehabilitation unit, currently managed by Lifepoint Rehabilitation, located at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center, University District in Eugene, Ore. The new facility will also feature a 12-bed brain injury unit, a first for the area. It will be located on the PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend annex campus in Springfield.
The new rehabilitation facility will provide intensive nursing, physical, occupational and speech pathology services for adults recovering from conditions such as stroke, neurological disease, brain or spinal cord injury, and other debilitating illnesses or injuries. This expansion will allow PeaceHealth and Lifepoint Rehabilitation to increase access to inpatient rehabilitation services in the region, addressing a significant community need. Lifepoint Rehabilitation will manage the day-to-day operations of the facility.
“Both PeaceHealth and Lifepoint Rehabilitation share a strong commitment to providing high-quality care,” said Todd Salnas, chief executive of the PeaceHealth Oregon network. “We are pleased to partner with Lifepoint Rehabilitation as we expand access to critically needed inpatient rehabilitation services in our community. We look forward to providing both an enhanced level of care and an increased access to care for rehabilitation patients throughout the region.”
Pending customary regulatory approvals, construction for the new inpatient rehabilitation facility is expected to begin in the spring of 2025 with an expected opening in 2026.
“We are pleased to partner with PeaceHealth as we expand access to critically needed inpatient rehabilitation services for patients in the Willamette Valley,” said David Stark, vice president of operations for Lifepoint Rehabilitation. “Our patients are at the center of the work we do, and we look forward to continuing our work alongside PeaceHealth as we advance our mission of making communities healthier ®.”
Upon completion, the PeaceHealth rehabilitation facility will join Lifepoint Rehabilitation’s growing network of more than 30 inpatient rehabilitation facilities across the country.
About PeaceHealth: PeaceHealth, based in Vancouver, Wash., is a not-for-profit Catholic health system offering care to communities in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. PeaceHealth has approximately 16,000 caregivers, a group practice with more than 1,200 providers and 10 medical centers serving both urban and rural communities throughout the Northwest. In 1890, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace founded what has become PeaceHealth. The Sisters shared expertise and transferred wisdom from one medical center to another, always finding the best way to serve the unmet need for healthcare in their communities. Today, PeaceHealth is the legacy of the founding Sisters and continues with a spirit of respect, stewardship, collaboration and social justice in fulfilling its Mission. Visit us online at peacehealth.org.
About Lifepoint Rehabilitation: With more than 30 freestanding inpatient rehabilitation facilities (IRFs) across 18 states, Lifepoint Rehabilitation is a partner of choice for many major hospital systems in the creation of joint venture operations that are industry-leading in clinical and financial outcomes. Through our IRFs and more than 100 acute rehabilitation units (ARUs), Lifepoint Rehabilitation brings proven rehabilitation management and services expertise to help our patients recover and return home quickly from a number of conditions, including strokes, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic injuries, neurological conditions, amputations and trauma. Lifepoint Rehabilitation is a business unit of Brentwood, Tenn.-based Lifepoint Health.
Crews Extinguish Early Morning Fire In Eugene
Eugene, OR. 3/16 Eugene Springfield Fire crews responded to an early morning house fire at the intersection of Cal Young and Ravenwood in North Eugene. Arriving firefighters found a home under construction well involved in fire.
Fire crews found evidence to suggest the building was being used as temporary shelter, but a thorough search found no occupants and there were no reported injuries. The fire was contained to the structure of origin with extensive damage due to the lack of sheetrock and void spaces. The cause is under investigation. The caller was alerted to the fire by roosting turkeys making a bunch of noise. While we appreciate the assist, turkeys are not a good substitute for working smoke detectors!
Eugene Springfield Fire Responds to 3 Overnight Fires
Eugene, OR. Eugene Springfield Fire crews responded to two house fires, an RV fire and 15 additional calls for service between 2:00 and 6:30 AM on Thursday morning.
02:27 AM crews were dispatched to the 5100 block of E street in Springfield to a garage fire that crews were able to keep contained to the garage.
02:30 AM crews were dispatched to an unknown type fire and found an RV Fire near 1st and Lincoln where the RV suffered extensive damage.
06:38 Am crews were dispatched to a house fire in North Eugene on the 1200 block of Cal Young Rd. Crews found heavy fire in a home under construction. Crews kept the fire contained to the structure of origin.
All fires are under investigation. There were no reported injuries despite all 3 being reported as occupied at the time of the fires.
Lane County Human Services Opens 2023 Community Needs Survey
Lane County wants to hear from you! Lane County Human Services (LCHS) has opened the 2023 Community Needs Survey! The survey will be open from now until April 30th. This annual, community-wide survey seeks to inform LCHS about the needs and concerns that you may have for communities across Lane County.
The survey primarily focuses on issues such as housing, education, health, and rural services. Areas of concern identified through the responses will help to make sure funding is used to support gaps and needs for services in Lane County.
The survey takes about 15 minutes to complete, all answers are completely anonymous and confidential, and are available in English, Spanish, and Chinese by clicking the links below. Additionally, the attached flyer can be shared broadly to help encourage response.
Community Needs Survey (English)
Community Needs Survey (Spanish)
Community Needs Survey (Chinese)
Study Finds Lack Of Nursing Teachers Causing Nurse Shortage in Oregon
The Oregon Longitudinal Data Collaborative (OLDC) is pleased to announce a newly published study: “Postsecondary Healthcare Education Shortage in Oregon,” a statewide analysis of the nursing education shortage that is impacting every region of Oregon. According to the study, more than 6,800 qualified nursing student applications were submitted to Oregon postsecondary institutions in 2020, yet only 23 percent were accepted. At the same time, Oregon ranks 47th in graduates per capita from registered nursing programs. This study examines the causes of the postsecondary education bottleneck which is limiting institutions of higher education from providing enough capacity to meet student and job market demand for registered nurses and makes recommendations for policymakers to address these issues. Read the full analysis here or the Summary of Findings and Recommendations here.
Barbara Holtry, interim executive director of the Oregon State Board of Nursing says, “This report confirms what has been known in nursing circles for decades; that there is a nursing faculty shortage in Oregon, that nurses avoid teaching because they can earn more in other nursing roles, and that student cohorts could be larger if only there were more faculty to support them.”
The researchers found that there are more than enough qualified applicants to Oregon’s nursing education programs to meet job demand in the state. However, in a survey of Oregon’s healthcare education programs, the researchers found that significant barriers have prevented registered nursing programs from expanding to accept more qualified students, including: difficulty hiring and retaining faculty, limited clinical placement opportunities, and fiscal challenges including costs to update and expand their facilities. Further investigation revealed that Oregon has one of the largest salary gaps nationally between nursing faculty and registered nurses. Analysis showed that states like Oregon with a higher nursing faculty salary gap graduate fewer students per capita. The survey also found that 95 percent of nursing programs were denied one or more attempts to establish a clinical placement between 2016-2020.
Based on the findings in the study, the OLDC developed recommendations which are detailed in the summary here and include: establishing a state workgroup to address nurse faculty salary, establishing a statewide centralized clinical placement system, addressing needs for program expansion including facility and equipment needs and expanded access to bachelor programs, and conducting additional research to identify additional support for students.
“This study is a great example of the value that comes from sharing data with the Oregon Longitudinal Data Collaborative and other partner agencies. It sheds light on the complex challenges contributing to the shortage of health care workers and points to some possible policy solutions,” said Acting Oregon Employment Department Director David Gerstenfeld. “These collaborations help Oregon businesses and workforces compete, thrive, and flourish in our ever-changing labor market. Together, we can serve Oregonians better than we ever could on our own.”
This is the first comprehensive report of the OLDC, a program governed by multiple agencies, that looks at the intersections of K-12, postsecondary education, workforce training, and employment to examine how these sectors influence and impact each other. The OLDC, located in the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, is working to tackle topics like nursing education that require integrated data and analysis from multiple sectors: K-12 education, postsecondary education, licensing, workforce, and more.
Ben Cannon, executive director of HECC says, “This study provides an in-depth analysis of a critical and complicated issue we face, and concrete actions for Oregon policy makers and institutions to consider to help more Oregon students enter rewarding, well-paying careers, and to help Oregon communities that are in such need of quality healthcare workers. I’m pleased that we can benefit from the rigorous research of the OLDC and all the partners they have worked with.”
The study was created over the course of the last year through analysis of data from the OLDC Statewide Longitudinal Data System with additional data provided by Oregon State Board of Nursing, Oregon Employment Department, Oregon Health Authority, and surveys to the Oregon healthcare education programs. The OLDC thanks the many college and university deans and their program staff, the Oregon State Board of Nursing, HECC program staff, OHA, and the research directors from the HECC, OED, ODE for their involvement during the research process. Source: Oregon Longitudinal Data Collaborative
Oregon DEQ to temporarily suspend Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebate Program as of May 1
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality today announced it will temporarily suspend the Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebate Program as of May 1, 2023. Projections show the program will be oversubscribed in late spring 2023. Program rules require DEQ to suspend rebates once funds are depleted.
“DEQ has one of the most generous EV rebate programs in the country. It has been extremely successful, and 2023 rebate applications are coming in at our highest rate yet. People are choosing electric vehicles and rebates are instrumental in lowering the costs to Oregonians.” said Oregon DEQ Director Leah Feldon.
The program receives funds annually from the state’s Vehicle Privilege Tax . It covers all program costs, including rebates, program administration and community engagement. The Oregon Department of Revenue projects the program will receive about $14 million for 2023. Also, it was able to carry over approximately $3.5 million due to a one-time allotment of $15 million last year. Therefore, the 2023 budget was $17.5 million, with $15.5 million available for rebates. DEQ expects the fund to be depleted in the next few months, based on volume of EV sales.
If you buy or lease an eligible battery electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle or zero-emission motorcycle before May 1, you may still apply for a rebate . DEQ has created an Available Rebate Funding web page so applicants can see how much money is left for 2023. Once funds are depleted, eligible applications will go on a waiting list, to be paid once DEQ receives its next allotment in early 2024.
Electric vehicles purchased or leased after April 30, 2023, will not receive state rebates, but can still qualify for federal tax credits . They will not be placed on a waiting list for rebates at a later time.
“Other states look to the Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebate Program as a model. That’s because we understand transitioning to electric vehicles is an important part of the state’s overall climate plan to reduce emissions, promote cleaner air and improve public health,” said Director Feldon.
A variety of state agencies and public electric utilities offer savings on EV purchases or charging infrastructure. The Go Electric Oregon website lists available incentives and provides helpful information for potential electric vehicle buyers and lessees.
If you have any questions about the Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebate Program suspension, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
About The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality — The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality protects human health and the environment by controlling air and water pollution, reducing the impacts of manufactured products and cleaning up contaminated properties. DEQ engages the public in decision-making and helps communities solve problems in ways that are economically and environmentally sustainable. https://www.oregon.gov/newsroom/Pages/NewsDetail.aspx?newsid=87788
Bend Snowboarder Killed In Avalanche At Paulina Peak
A Bend snowboarder killed in an avalanche at Paulina Peak Wednesday has been identified. – The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office says Erik Hefflefinger, 33, was snowboarding with friends when an avalanche swept him away and over a cliff at around 12:50 pm. His two friends, also from Bend and who had already made their descent when the avalanche happened, found him and immediately began CPR and other lifesaving measures.
DCSO says Oregon State Police responded to the incident after receiving two SOS notifications from the area, however they were unable to get to the scene because of snow conditions. Deschutes County Search and Rescue (SAR) deployed three volunteers using Airlink. When they got there around 4 p.m., DCSO said Hefflefinger’s pulse was faint, so they began life saving measures.
At 5 p.m., SAR determined Hefflefinger was beyond help and they stopped. DCSO said. They transported him to the 10-mile snow park, where he was then taken to the funeral home.
DCSO said it was determined that Hefflefinger possibly hit a tree when he was swept away. The three snowboarders used snowmobiles to approach the area and made a final approach on skis and snowboards.
The summit of Paulina Peak is 7,984 feet. It’s the highest point on the Newberry Volcano.
Earlier this month, experienced backcountry skier Aaron Griffith, of Bend, was killed by an avalanche while skiing with a friend at Black Crater, north of the Three Sisters.
DCSO said that prior to these two fatalities, it has been nine years since a fatality has been recorded directly due to an avalanche.
State Representatives Introduce Bill Reforming Drug Laws Measure 110
Monday Representative Lily Morgan, Republican of Grants Pass, and Representative E. Werner Reschke, Republican of Klamath Falls, announced the introduction of HB 3549. It would reform Oregon’s drug laws broken by Ballot Measure 110.
Measure 110 created a Class E Violation for hard drug possession in Oregon law. As of the end of February, law enforcement had issued 4,164 violations, nearly 20% of them coming from Josephine County alone. Only 34 individuals, less than 1%, have had a substance use assessment.
HB 3549’s tiered approach would keep Measure 110’s Class E Violation for the first offense with escalating accountability measures for subsequent offenses. The second offense would be a felony possession, with eligibility for conditional discharge. The third offense would be a felony charge with mandatory drug court.
The bill has been assigned to the House Committee on Judiciary and is awaiting a public hearing.
Oregon is one of 20 states with so-called “red flag” gun laws, and Deschutes County continues to lead the state in using them to prevent harm.
The law allows for the temporary removal of someone’s firearms if a judge agrees they’re displaying clear signs of danger to themselves or others. Built into the system is the opportunity to contest the removal and automatic expiration after a year if an order isn’t extended with more evidence.
Experts say the laws allow for intervention before a person’s behavior turns dangerous. Since Oregon’s Extreme Risk Protection Order law took effect in 2018, Deschutes County has issued those orders more often than most other counties in the state, according to a review of judicial department data.
Jake Chandler, an investigator in the Deschutes County District Attorney’s office and former Bend Police officer, says the law took effect right at the time he and the department’s Community Response Team was responding to two tragic fatalities.
“(We looked) at those saying hey, what can we do on our team, on the mental health team, to make sure that doesn’t happen again, or do everything in our power to try to stop that from happening?” Chandler said. “So once we found the ERPOs being available to us, our team really started pushing that.”
Even several years into their existence, the protective orders remain at times a little-known tool for preventing deaths and injuries from firearms, as passage of the law came with little state support for public education around the orders and their use.
But “red flag” laws have gained national attention as investigators find missed warning signs left by the perpetrators of mass shootings.
“We all have been touched by violence in our community or nationally that people say ‘why didn’t somebody do something?’ when there were red flags,” said Kecia Weaver, a former Bend Police officer now working for the Sunriver Police Department. “This is a tool, a ‘something’ that myself or other lawful officers can do when we become alerted to some red flags by an individual’s statements or communication about what they might do to themselves or others.”
The orders are not cure-alls, Weaver notes, saying people could still find ways to be dangerous with an order applied to them, but that temporarily reducing access to firearms can still be an improvement.
Requests for orders can be filed only by certain people for certain reasons. Law enforcement, close family members and intimate partners can apply to have someone’s weapons removed with an order, but not friends, coworkers or acquaintances.
Those narrow rules are important for making sure orders are used only in serious situations, according to Kerry Spurgin, president of the Oregon Sports Shooting Association.
“The most important thing is we need to save lives and that person is given the opportunity to regain (their firearms),” Spurgin said. “But I rest on the fact that It starts with events that are defendable in front of a (judge), with the knowledge that there are second steps to regain.”
While certain family members can petition for an order, Chandler notes that asking law enforcement to do so is also an option to avoid direct confrontation if preferred.
The rules also mean clinicians like therapists or doctors — while they are mandatory reporters who have to report certain threats of violence — can’t directly petition for an order.
That can be reassuring for someone experiencing mental health challenges who might be afraid that being honest with a counselor could get their guns taken away, according to Donna-Marie Drucker, founder of the Oregon Firearms Safety Coalition, which provides suicide prevention training for gun clubs and ranges.
“Mostly my focus is letting people know that your clinician, your person at the VA, your primary care doctor cannot petition (for an order),” Drucker said. “You go and ask for help and nobody’s going to be taking away your guns.”
If an order is granted, a person has 24 hours to surrender their weapons to law enforcement, a firearms dealer or other specified people.
Since their inception, most of the state’s 500-plus granted “red flag” orders that have been granted have included concerns about a person’s risk of suicide.
Petitions are granted for a handful of other reasons, including if a person makes threats of violence, purchases a weapon for the purpose of committing violence, violates certain restraining orders or is convicted of certain crimes — and, most often, some combination of multiple reasons.
Still, not every petition is granted.
“I’ve only had one that was declined by the courts — which again is a great part of the process, because officers just apply for orders when they think it would be an appropriate and helpful tool,” Weaver said. “But ultimately it is up to a judge.”
In that specific case, the individual had been making threats toward family members, but the judge didn’t see enough evidence to issue an order.
“But a few days later the individual contacted law enforcement that they did not feel safe having access to firearms, and they felt that they could potentially be a danger to others,” Weaver said.
About 20% of ERPO petitions have been denied since the law took effect, most for the same reason that a judge didn’t find “clear and convincing evidence” that the person presented a risk of harm to themselves or others, or because they didn’t actually have access to a weapon, according to judicial department data.
“Many, many things you can’t enforce unless a bad act has occurred, and for community safety, we’re trying to avoid a bad act … while still respecting someone’s constitutional rights,” Weaver said. “So it’s not something that we take lightly, and it does have to have good foundational information.” (SOURCE)
Statewide Speed Related Fatal and Serious Injury Crashes up 67%, Local Law Enforcement Conducting Awareness Campaign
March is Speed Awareness Month, speeding is a dangerous and aggressive behavior that accounts for more than one-quarter of all traffic-related fatalities nationally. There are many reasons drivers choose to speed, but lateness, traffic, and a general disregard for others are the main culprits behind this risky behavior. Much like impaired driving, speeding is a selfish choice that can have deadly consequences for the driver.
Speed related fatal and serious injury crashes were up 67% statewide in 2021. According to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), 2021 represents a 32‐year high in traffic fatalities (599 total) and a 25‐year high in serious injuries (2498 total). Almost one‐third (29%) of the 2021 fatal and serious injury crashes were flagged as speed related. According to initial fatal crash notifications, ODOT anticipates these trends continued through 2022.
Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and other local agencies around the state are teaming up to remind drivers to stop speeding and to help put an end to this risky driving behavior. We will be participating in this statewide speed awareness campaign for the entire month of March.
Note: Photos are from separate cases. Speed-Related Crash Photo: Vehicle suspected of reaching speeds around 100 mph before hitting the tree. Speeding Ticket Photo: Taken last month in Jackson County.