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
Wednesday, May 10, 2023
Willamette Valley Weather
Mapleton Schools Put on Lockdown
Mapleton Middle/High School and Mapleton Elementary School went into lockdown Tuesday afternoon after a suspicious, possibly armed, person made their way onto school grounds, the Lane County Sheriff’s Office reported.
5/9/2023 UPDATE 6:15PM
The lockdown at the Mapleton schools has been lifted and there is believed to be no ongoing threat to the public.
The Lane County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank the public and all partnering agencies for their very prompt and professional response to this incident. The Sheriff’s office is continuing to investigate the original report of an armed subject near the schools.
UPDATE – 4:40pm
Students from the Mapleton MS-HS and Elementary School are being bussed to the old Banner Bank parking lot located at 10756 Hwy. 126 in Mapleton. Parents are asked to respond to this location to be reunited with children. Even children that would normally walk home will be transported to the Banner Bank location to be reunited with parents.
The Mapleton MS-HS and Elementary schools currently remain on lockdown as local law enforcement officers search the area in reports of an armed subject.
All students at both schools are accounted for and safe. Authorities are asking parents not to respond to the schools as we are currently working on a reunification plan. Again, authorities are on scene and there is believed to be no danger to any students.
Shortly prior to 2:30pm students reported seeing a man wearing black and armed with a rifle near the school track. The man possibly went into a tree line and a loud sound, possibly a gunshot was heard shortly thereafter.
The Lane County Sheriff’s Office and Mapleton School District are working closely to provide information as it becomes available. Mapleton Sch. Dist.
Scammers Targeting Oregon State Football Player’s Families Claiming To Be Campus Police
Phone scammers are targeting parents in an attempt to extort money from them, according to school officials in Oregon. It’s happening to families with kids of all ages, including college football players.
Padilla said since April, scammers have called three Spanish-speaking families with children in the Reynolds School District. In each case, the scammers spoke Spanish and claimed to have kidnapped their child and demanded money via Cash App or wire transfer for their safe return. Padilla said the scammers also use Artificial Intelligence technology to mimic the sound of children in the background.
“They have that noise of, ‘Mom I’m with them, pay them!'” Padilla said. “That’s a scary thing if you think your child is with them and they’re saying ‘Pay them,’ so you can get them back.'”
Padilla wants parents to know the district would never release students to anyone other than those listed in the child’s emergency contact list. Besides Reynolds, the Centennial, Parkrose and Gresham Barlow school districts have also warned of scam attempts.
“It’s sick that anyone would scam someone like that,” said a parent named Kayla.
“Scammers are so desperate, they come up with different things every day,” said another parent named Jennifer. “Preying on anybody and everybody who’ll listen.”
It’s not just happening to parents of young kids. Gary Overman’s son is Jake Overman, and Oregon State University (OSU) tight end. He said a scammer called him and claimed to be a campus police official. The scammer said that Jake Overman was in custody for being drunk and disorderly, and demanded hundreds of dollars.
“[He said] that if I paid, then it was going to be swept under the table and not become public knowledge, nor would they have to turn my son into the state police,” Gary Overman said.
What the scammer didn’t know is that Jake Overman was home with his family, on break. Gary Overman said the scammers used technology to make the call sound more convincing.
“It sounded good. It sounded authentic,” he said. “The background noise … they had it like they were at a police department. Very clear and very understanding. It wasn’t like I was talking to another country.”
OSU officials told KGW that scammers have recently called five families of football players. One family made a payment. School officials asked all coaches to talk with athletes and encouraged them to warn their parents.
“It’s terribly sad and unfortunate that someone would seek to take advantage of students away at college,” said Steve Clark, vice president for university relations. “Oregon State police and public safety personnel would never call the families of students seeking money or payments for arrest or a past-due bill. We encourage everyone to be wary and please don’t provide money to people calling them on the phone.”
Authorities said it’s tough to track these type of scammers because they’re often calling from outside the U.S. They said if you hear from one, remain calm and don’t give into their demands. Instead, check on your child’s location for yourself and remember that this type of scam takes on many different forms, personalized for each target.
“A thousand dollars is worth getting your child back, but it’s a scam,” Padilla said. “We don’t want them to lose their money.” (SOURCE)
We have received recent reports of a scam in our community that has been targeting businesses.
The Lane County Sheriff’s Office has received multiple reports of a telephone scam that targets businesses and their employees. The scammers commonly identify themselves to employees over the telephone as managers or owners of the business.
The scammers will then attempt to convince the employee to deposit cash from the registers into a 3rd party financial system such as bitcoin machines to pay official business bills. Scams such as this commonly originate from outside of the country and are very difficult to investigate. Please use caution and trust your instincts if you believe you are falling victim to a scam.
In some instances, the scammers appear to call from official phone numbers and/or provide fraudulent callback numbers with voicemail inboxes.
WasteWise Lane County, Toolbox Project Organize Springfield’s first Fix-It Fair
WasteWise Lane County—part of the Lane County Waste Management Division—and nonprofit Toolbox Project are excited to announce the first fix-it fair in Springfield.
The free public event, hosted at The Academy of Arts and Academics (615 Main Street, Springfield) during the Downtown Springfield Second Friday Art Walk on May 12, runs from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Fix-it fairs promote reuse and repair by offering participants opportunities to have household items repaired by volunteer fixers. Participants can watch and learn repair skills, discover local repair resources, and extend the life of household items—keeping more stuff out of the trash and saving money.
The Springfield event will focus primarily on clothing, textile, and bike repairs.
This year, Lane County is funding Toolbox Project to introduce the fairs to three cities outside of Eugene for the first time: Springfield, Cottage Grove (July 22), and Florence (September 23).
“These fairs have been very popular in Eugene for several years, so we are excited to help the concept branch out to more rural areas,” said Waste Reduction Outreach Coordinator Daniel Hiestand. “The Toolbox Project has done a wonderful job organizing these fairs over the past several years, so we’re thrilled to coordinate with them on these new events. We’re also grateful to Lane Council of Governments for its financial support; the staff and students at The Academy of Arts and Academics for hosting and participating in the fair; and the many event volunteers and fixers who make this possible—including local nonprofit Shift Community Cycles.”
Repairs take an average of 30 minutes, and attendees can only bring items that can be reasonably carried in. Learn more at fixitlanecounty.com/calendar.
About WasteWise Lane County – WasteWise Lane County offers education, tools, and resources that residents, schools, and businesses can use to reduce waste, conserve resources and live more sustainably. Learn more about repair resources at fixitlanecounty.com.
About Toolbox Project –
The ToolBox Project serves Lane County by providing members with low-cost access to building repair and garden tools to transform their homes, businesses, and neighborhoods. Learn more at www.eugenetoolboxproject.org.
ODHS will begin replacing SNAP benefits for victims of electronic theft on May 22
Need to know
- Oregon will begin replacing SNAP benefits stolen due to EBT card skimming fraud on May 22
- People who discover their SNAP benefits were stolen should request replacement benefits immediately
- People with EBT cards are encouraged to take steps to protect their cards from fraud
(Salem) – Starting May 22, the Oregon Department of Human Services will begin replacing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food benefits for victims of electronic theft who have had benefits stolen from their Electrotonic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. Electronic theft includes card skimming, card cloning and other similar methods.
Thanks to the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023, ODHS can soon begin to replace SNAP benefits that were stolen electronically on or after Oct. 1, 2022.
After May 22, people in Oregon whose SNAP benefits were stolen should request replacement benefits immediately.
People who know their SNAP benefits were stolen between Oct. 1, 2022, and May 22, 2023, must request replacement benefits by June 21, 2023. ODHS cannot replace benefits that were stolen before Oct. 1, 2022.
People who discover their SNAP benefits were stolen after May 22 will have 30 days from the date they discover the theft to request replacement benefits.
“We know that many individuals and families in Oregon rely on the food assistance they receive through their EBT cards to meet their basic needs and to get enough healthy food for themselves and their families,” said Claire Seguin, interim director of the ODHS Self-Sufficiency Programs. “We are glad to be able to replacement benefits that were stolen due to EBT card skimming fraud and we encourage people to take steps to protect their benefits.”
How to request replacement SNAP benefits
- Visit the ODHS website at https://www.oregon.gov/dhs/assistance/food-benefits/pages/replacement%20-benefits.aspx for information on how to request benefits via email or mail.
- Visit a local office. Find an office near you at https://www.oregon.gov/dhs/Offices/Pages/one-services.aspx
- Call the ONE customer service center at 1-800-699-9075
If your Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits are stolen
You can request replacement benefits by contacting:
- Your family coach
- The ONE customer service center at 1-800-699-9075
- Local Self-Sufficiency Programs Office, find an office online at https://www.oregon.gov/dhs/Offices/Pages/Self-Sufficiency.aspx.
How to protect your EBT card information:
- Freeze your card immediately after each use and unfreeze it before making purchases. This can be done in the “Freeze Card” section under “Account Services” by visiting Cardholder.ebtEdge.com or using the ebtEdge mobile app.
- Block purchases made outside of Oregon and online purchases. These blocks can be removed by you when necessary. This can be done in the “Protect My Account” section under “Account Services” by visiting Cardholder.ebtEdge.com or using the ebtEdge mobile app.
- Keep your PIN secret. Do not share your PIN with anyone outside your household. Cover the keypad when you enter your PIN on a machine.
- Check your EBT account regularly for unauthorized charges. If you notice any, cancel your card immediately.
- How to cancel your card:
- Outside of business hours: Call the 24-hour toll-free customer service line at 1-888-997-4447 to cancel your card and protect your benefits. Then call the replacement card line below during business hours to get a new card and PIN.
- During business hours: Call the toll-free replacement card line at 1-855-328-6715 to order a replacement card. The replacement line is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. You will get a replacement card by mail, usually within five business days.
- Check card reading machines to make sure there’s nothing suspicious overlayed or attached to the card swiper or keypad. The overlays can be difficult to detect but are often bigger than the original machine and may hide parts of the machine.
- Sometimes scammers use text messages to obtain EBT card numbers and PINs, and steal SNAP benefits. These are known as phishing scams and are a type of fraud. ODHS will never send a text message to request your information. Do not provide your EBT card number or PIN by phone or text.
Resources to help meet basic needs
- Find a food pantry: foodfinder.oregonfoodbank.org
- Oregon Department of Human Services Resources
- Find food resources in your community: needfood.oregon.gov
- Find a food pantry: foodfinder.oregonfoodbank.org
- Learn about government programs and community resources for older adults and people with disabilities: Aging and Disability Resource Connection of Oregon at 1-855-673-2372 or www.adrcoforegon.org.
- Dial 2-1-1, or text your zip code to 898-211, www.211info.org
- Find local resources and support by contacting your local Community Action Agency: www.caporegon.org/find-services/
- Oregon Department of Human Services COVID-19 help center
Administered by ODHS, SNAP is a federal program that provides food assistance to approximately 1 million eligible, low-income families and individuals in Oregon, including many older adults and people with disabilities. Oregonians in need can apply for benefits, including SNAP, child care, cash assistance and Medicaid. Learn more at https://govstatus.egov.com/or-dhs-benefits. For local resources in your area, such as food or shelter, please call 2-1-1 or reach out to the state’s Aging and Disability Resource Connection (ADRC) at 1-855-ORE-ADRC or 1-855-673-2372.
Oregon Honors 193 Fallen Law Enforcement Officers – One Name Added to Memorial Wall
On Tuesday, May 2nd, DPSST hosted the 2023 Oregon Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony. The State of Oregon remembered and honored 193 fallen law enforcement officers, and the families they left behind, during this annual ceremony attended by Governor Tina Kotek. The event took place outdoors, at the state memorial which is located at the Oregon Public Safety Academy in Salem.
The name of one fallen Oregon law enforcement officer was added to the state memorial and honored at this year’s ceremony; Brian J. Gaunt of the Beaverton Police Department, EOW 10/24/21. Sergeant Gaunt died as a result of contracting COVID-19 in the line of duty. Sergeant Gaunt was a United States Coast Guard veteran who served 21 years with the Beaverton Police Department and had been assigned as a patrol officer, detective, and canine handler. He is survived by his wife and three children.
The Oregon Fallen Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial Ceremony is a significant event that the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) is proud to host each year in partnership with the Oregon Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, Oregon Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.), Oregon Fallen Badge Foundation, and Oregon’s various statewide law enforcement associations.
The memorial honors 193 fallen Oregon law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty since the 1860s. This includes officers from city, county, state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies who have served as law enforcement officers, corrections officers, and parole and probation officers.
The Oregon memorial is held ahead of National Police Week events in Washington, D.C. so that family members and co-workers can attend both memorial ceremonies. More than 23,000 officers who have died in the line of duty are honored on the national memorial.
### The Oregon Law Enforcement Memorial Fund-raised funds to build the state memorial more than 20 years ago and hosts the annual ceremony. For more information on the Oregon Law Enforcement Memorial Fund and the statewide license plate that is available to honor fallen law enforcement officers and firefighters please visit: https://www.oregon.gov/dpsst/BD/MFB/Pages/Oregon-Law-Enforcement-Memorial-Trust-Fund.aspx
For more information on the Oregon Law Enforcement Memorial please visit: https://www.oregon.gov/dpsst/Memorials/LawEnforcement/Pages/default.aspx
For more information about National Police Week, please visit: https://lnkd.in/g8U4r9nY
GOP state lawmakers continue to thwart the Oregon Senate’s attempts to convene.
Nine Republican senators, including Klamath County’s Dennis Lithincum, and one Independent were
absent yesterday, preventing a quorum for the sixth day in a row.
Republicans say it’s a protest over bill summaries that aren’t written to the level of an 8th grader, but Democrats say it’s a stall tactic to prevent a vote on a reproductive health care bill.
Some of the Senators now have six unexcused absences. Under Oregon law, legislators with more than nine unexcused absences can’t run again.
New OHA report reveals payer and provider performance under the state’s cost growth target
Data highlight opportunities to improve health care affordability
PORTLAND, Ore. – Today Oregon Health Authority (OHA) released its first report on cost growth trends for health insurance plans and large provider organizations across the state. The report provides insight into health care spending growth across the commercial, Medicaid and Medicare markets for 29 payers and 51 provider organizations. Payers and provider organizations were more likely to meet the cost growth target for their Medicaid line of business (and Medicaid patients) compared to commercial and Medicare Advantage.
Overall, health care costs grew 3.5% between 2020-2021, just above the cost growth target of 3.4%. Cost growth was primarily due to increased utilization of health care services as people resumed care they may have postponed in the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The cost growth program was created to show us system trends and shine a light on the work that needs to be done to allow for more equitable access and affordable health care,” said Dave Baden, OHA’s interim director. “Now that we have this data and understand more about the impacts of COVID-19 on health care utilization and cost growth, we have even more reason to come to the table to find solutions.”
In 2019, the Oregon Legislature established the Sustainable Health Care Cost Growth Target Program, which is designed to prevent health care costs from growing faster than wages, inflation and other economic indicators. In collaboration among large provider organizations, hospitals and health insurance plans, employers, and consumer/patient advocates, the program sets a statewide target for the annual per-person growth rate of total health care spending. The program is flexible by design and accounts for the impact of COVID-19 and historically high inflation.
Accountability measures for payers and providers exceeding the target cost growth rate will be phased in with a multi-year approach. Performance improvement plans (PIPs) for entities exceeding the cost growth will begin in 2025. No payers or provider organizations will be subject to a PIP based on the data in this report.
A few key trends from the 2020 – 2021 report include:
- Overall cost growth was greatest in the commercial market. Statewide, total health care expenditures grew 12.1% in the commercial market, compared to 6.5% growth in the Medicare market and a 2.1% decrease in the Medicaid market. Payers and provider organizations were more likely to meet the cost growth target for their Medicaid line of business.
- Primary cost drivers include an increase in hospital outpatient and professional services utilization, as people resumed care they may have delayed in the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because they had previously delayed care, many patients had increased needs or were sicker when they did access care, leading to higher costs.
- There was also a shift in care sites. Due to capacity issues, patients received care in higher cost locations. For example, limited primary care availability meant that more patients sought care in urgent care settings. Patients had longer hospital inpatient stays when skilled nursing facility beds were not available.
- Retail pharmacy spending grew in all markets. Statewide, retail pharmacy spending grew 3.6% between 2020-2021, even after pharmacy rebates were taken into account. Pharmacy rebates account for around $1 billion per year in Oregon. Statewide, about 23% of spending for retail pharmacy was returned to payers and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) through rebates.
On May 2, the Sustainable Health Care Cost Growth Target Program released a report with health care spending trends from 2018 to 2020. A May 17 public hearing will cover data from both reports. More information is available online.
ODF sends 22 firefighters to Alberta to help fight wildfires
SALEM, Ore. – Monday, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) deployed 22 firefighters to Alberta, Canada through the Northwest Compact to provide extra support in fighting their wildfires. The Northwest Compact is a mutual assistance agreement that allows five northwest states, including Oregon, and five NW Canadian provinces and territories to easily share resources with one another, creating a larger and more comprehensive fire management system.
Currently, Alberta is experiencing an influx of fire activity with over 100 active wildfires across the province. Of those, at least 14 are larger wildfires. The province has been experiencing an immense amount of lightning and high winds paired with dryer and warmer conditions as we transition into summer, and their resources are becoming more strained as the wildfires and evacuations continue.
The ODF team will be on a standard, two-week deployment in Alberta and will return with new knowledge on firefighting tactics, refined skills and stronger relationships with our partners up north.
“Fire is a family, no matter if it’s in the U.S. or Canada, and we’re here to help,” said Mike Shaw, ODF’s Fire Protection Division Chief. “But keep in mind that, before committing to any deployment, we make sure that our own fire management system is prepared and ready to respond to fires here in Oregon.”
In its 25th year, the Northwest Compact was created to facilitate assistance in wildland fire pre-suppression and suppression efforts between member agencies. Member agencies include Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon and Northwest Territories.
The relationships built through the Northwest Compact benefit Oregon equally when our fire season hits its peak and has for decades. For example:
- Last year during the Double Creek Fire, four resources came to Oregon from British Columbia to help.
- During the 2020 Labor Day wildfires, more than 7,500 personnel from multiple Canadian provinces and 39 states answered Oregon’s call.
- In 2017, several Canadian firefighters assisted Oregon in preparing for the solar eclipse and responding to the Chetco Bar Fire.
“By creating a cache of reciprocal resources, both Oregon and Alberta can benefit from each other when fire seasons hit hard and resources become strained,” Blake Ellis, Fire Operations Manager for the Fire Protection Division, said.
Bend Man Arraigned On Murder And Manslaughter Charges In Fatal Shooting Of Powell Butte Man
A Bend man accused of fatally shooting a Powell Butte man at the victim’s home on Sunday, stealing his car and later engaging in a police chase north of Bend and shooting himself several times was arraigned on murder, manslaughter and other charges Tuesday afternoon.
Crook County Circuit Judge Wade Whiting ordered that Russell Votruba, 42, continue to be held without bail at the county jail, from which he appeared by video link, in the shooting death of Cristopher Hoffman, 41. A formal arraignment was scheduled for Thursday, May 18, after an expected grand jury indictment.
The arraignment was delayed from Monday, when a jail deputy said Votruba was “acting out” and “throwing juice around.”
When the subject of any possible request for release on bail arose Tuesday, Chief Deputy District Attorney Laura Moszer said prosecutors would oppose that, noting that Votruba had 32 previous criminal convictions, including for trespass in Deschutes County and a 1999 felony sex abuse case.
His court-appointed attorney, David Rich, did not waive his right to eventually seek a release hearing.
After the next arraignment was scheduled, and before the hearing concluded, Votruba said, “I’d like to add something, if possible, your honor.”
But Whiting quickly advised: “I recommend you speak with your attorney before any statements in open court.”
“Thank you, your honor,” Votruba responded.
Votruba was transferred from St. Charles Bend to the Crook County Jail early Monday, accused of murder in the shooting death of the Powell Butte man whose car he allegedly stole.
“Inside this residence when our deputies arrived, they went inside and found a deceased subject identified as Christopher Hoffman,” 41, of Powell Butte, Lt. Bill Elliott told us at the scene Monday.
Crook County sheriff’s 911 dispatchers got a call shortly before 3 p.m. Sunday saying a man, later identified as Votruba, had called the reporting party and said he had killed at the home Hoffman rented in the 12000 block of Southwest Red Cloud Road in Powell Butte, Elliott said.
The call to 911 came from a family member of the victim, Elliott said. Deputies went to the scene and found the doors to the home were open and located the victim, identified as Hoffman. Elliott said no one else was at the home, where he apparently lived alone.
Investigators quickly determined that the suspect, Votruba, had left the home in the victim’s black 2021 BMW SUV.
“The subject was gone when deputies arrived,” Elliott said. “A short time later, the Deschutes County Sheriffs Office located a vehicle on (Highway) 97, headed northbound out of Bend.”
In an update Monday, sergeant Jason Wall said the sheriff’s office began the pursuit around 5 p.m. after the Powell Butte homicide suspect’s SUV first was spotted on Hunnell Road. He headed north on Highway 97 and sped off when a deputy approached, prompting the pursuit.
Southbound traffic on the highway was stopped as a precaution as the suspect and police headed north.
Wall said deputies set up spike strips near Highway 97 and SW Tomahawk Avenue in an attempt to stop the SUV, deflating some of the tires. But he avoided the spikes near the Yew Avenue exit, when deputies used the Pursuit Immobilization Technique, also known as the PIT maneuver, to stop the SUV.
In that maneuver, a pursuing vehicle forces a fleeing vehicle to turn sideways, causing the driver to lose control and stop.
Skyler Peterman, a Redmond resident, was with his pregnant girlfriend when the chase stopped traffic on Highway 97.
“I went to take the (Redmond) Airport exit and cars were stopped in the highway, north and southbound,” he said. “We just didn’t feel safe in that moment.”
“I mean, I was a little bit scared, honestly,” Peterman said. “Just sitting in the right lane. Nobody has come up to tell me what to do (in traffic). I just found out my baby is going to be a girl — we were super-excited about that.”
Wall described the violent end to the chase this way: “As deputies attempted to apprehend the suspect, they heard numerous gunshots from within the vehicle. Votruba had intentionally shot himself numerous times. Deputies preformed emergency lifesaving measures prior to medical personnel arriving.”
Medics upon arrival attended to Votruba and took him to St. Charles Bend.
Numerous police and investigators converged in the spot where the pursuit ended west of the Yew Avenue interchange, where crime scene tape encircled the SUV and deputy’s patrol vehicle off SW 25th Place and Greens Boulevard.
Votruba was released from the Bend hospital overnight and lodged in the Crook County Jail in Prineville, charged in an initial court filing by District Attorney Kari Hathorn with second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, unlawful use of a weapon, unauthorized use of a vehicle and felon in possession of a firearm.
The motive and circumstances surrounding the killing are still under investigation.
“With the help of the Major Incident Team, we will get this investigation completed as soon as we can,” Elliott told NewsChannel 21.
Peterman added: “I mean, I’ve lived in Bend my whole life — I’m second-generation — and there really isn’t police chases around here. That doesn’t happen very often.”
Votruba was to appear in Whiting’s court Monday afternoon for his initial arraignment, but a deputy told the judge it would need to be delayed a day. Whiting asked if the defendant was refusing to appear, and a jail deputy said “not verbally” — but that Votruba was “acting out, throwing juice around.”
Elliott said any members of the public who had contact with Votruba or Hoffman between Friday and Sunday is asked to contact the sheriff’s office. The lieutenant said there is a “time window” in which Votruba is unaccounted for, adding, “We may never know.”
While Elliott indicated Votruba was from originally from Newport and had ties to the coastal community, the court filing in the murder case listed a Bend address on Northeast Fourth Street.
The Tri-County Major Crime Team was called out to assist in the investigation. Elliott thanked Oregon State Police, the Redmond, Prineville and Bend police departments, Crook County and Redmond Fore and Rescue and the Crook County District Attorney’s Office “for assistance on this complex case.”
Murder Trial Starts in Medford Over Victim Found Inside Stuffed In Refrigerator
The first trial for one of three former wildland firefighters accused of a 2021 Medford murder started this week.
Police said in September of 2021, 24-year-old Aaron Stitt was killed and then stuffed into a fridge after his death.
The three local wildland firefighters accused in his death will stand trial separately over the next few months.
25-year-old Austin McLeod’s trial began Monday. He faces charges of murder, robbery, unlawful use of a weapon, abuse of a corpse, and tampering with physical evidence.
23-year-old Dylan McLeod’s trial begins in August and 20-year-old Brycen Scofield will go to trial in October.
The former employer of three murder suspects who are accused of luring 24-year-old Aaron Stitt to an apartment in Medford and then killing him is speaking out about their time working as wildland firefighters.
Pacific Oasis, Inc, a forestry and fire fighting contractor company said 25year-old Austin McLeod and 22-year-old Dylan McLeod worked for them briefly in 2018.
The company said, in a written statement that in July of 2018 Austin McLeod was terminated for violating the company’s drug policy.
“We have had no contact with either of them since then,” the statement reads.
The company said 20-year-old Brycen Scofield began work with them as a wildland firefighter in late 2020.
According to court documents Scofield was charged with possession of meth on July 10, 2020.
“We have no idea of how, where, or when any of the people involved met, knew each other or what their association is to each other, or to the victim of this terrible crime,” Pacific Oasis said in their statement. “We are shocked and saddened to hear the news of this tragic event. Our prayers go out to the families.”
According to charging documents, the three are accused of using a hammer or wrench to kill Stitt and of attempting to hide his body.
The incident happened on Sept 25 in the 800 block of Royal Ave. in Medford. Medford Police were dispatched to the location on reports of an armed robbery at an apartment.
When officers arrived, they found Scofield outside the apartment. He then ran back inside to avoid contact with officers.
After officers phoned Scofield, he exited and was detained without further incident.
Police located Stitt deceased inside the apartment. According to detectives, the three suspects had invited Stitt over earlier in the day with the intent to rob him.
Pacific Oasis, Inc. employs approximately 250 people seasonally.
“We have provided fire crews to more than 480 wildland fire dispatches since 2015, including over 80 so far in 2021,” the company noted in the statement. “Our goal is to provide top-quality service to our industry. We work to provide education, mentoring, and employment to people in our community. We try to provide people with an opportunity to develop and use knowledge and skills that will allow them to earn a living working in the woods. That is what we have done here in the Rogue Valley since 1990.”
The three suspects face the following charges:
- Murder in the Second Degree
- Robbery in the First Degree
- Unlawful Use of a Weapon
- Abuse of Corpse in the Second Degree
- Tampering with Physical Evidence
Second sinkhole forms at Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, please use caution
PACIFIC CITY, Ore— Oregon Parks and Recreation Department is asking visitors to use caution and to stay away from the area where a second sinkhole has formed at Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area.
The second sinkhole was discovered Monday about 10 inches away from the first, which appeared in January. The new sinkhole measures about 10 feet across and about 30 feet deep and developed within the safety fence of the first sinkhole in the northwest corner of the lower dune.
Park staff learned about the additional sinkhole late Monday evening when a photo was posted on social media. They expanded the safety fence early Tuesday around both sinkholes to keep park visitors at a safer distance.
“We ask that visitors respect this barrier and all park safety barriers and that they keep pets on leashes and children away from the edges. We are monitoring the site daily, but it’s a dynamic environment. The soft sandstone cliffs can give way without warning, which is why it’s important to respect safety fences everywhere in the park,” said Park Ranger Supervisor Travis Korbe.
The second sinkhole appeared sometime between 10 a.m. when a park ranger checked on the safety fencing and 7:30 p.m. when a photo of the second sinkhole was posted on social media.
Oregon Parks and Recreation Department is working with a geologist to help determine the best location for a permanent safety fence to keep visitors away from the sinkholes. The soil appears to be falling into large, unstable voids beneath the cliff caused by strong ocean waves. The first sinkhole measures about 25 feet across and 15 feet deep.
Cape Kiwanda is a sandstone outcropping, which is naturally much weaker and prone to sudden changes compared with hardier rock like basalt. While any natural area carries risk, enjoying Cape Kiwanda safely requires visitors to pay special attention.
Even though the spot is marked with barriers, the sinkholes could change at any moment, and others could appear. If you see something that concerns you, leave the area and report it to Cape Lookout State Park staff at 503-842-4981. In an emergency, call 911.
Oregon Parks and Recreation Department is continuing to monitor the situation. We will share additional details as they become available.