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Car accident simulation teaches high school students at North Douglas and Yoncalla high schools about the impact of impaired driving

YONCALLA — When “grim reapers” visited North Douglas and Yoncalla high schools Wednesday to swipe students from the classroom every 15 minutes, it was only the beginning of an emotionally charged program designed to teach a lesson about the dangers of impaired driving.

After a student was removed from the classroom, a Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deputy would enter to read their obituary to their peers.

Every 15 Minutes is a program designed to show students the consequences of driving while impaired. The event’s name comes from the fact that in the United States a person is killed in a motor vehicle accident related to the consumption of alcohol, illicit substances or prescriptions medication every 15 minutes.

“I feel like it’s certainly interesting,” North Douglas freshman Lily Christensen said. “I like the scary make-up and getting to act, but this is a good event for letting people know not to get in the car with someone who’s been drinking.”

Students from Drain, where North Douglas High School is located, came by bus to Yoncalla for a simulated two-vehicle accident at the football field.

Yoncalla senior Kali Schuster portrayed a teenager who drank alcohol before heading out to prom with her friends Athusoss Gilbert, Amiah Ellis-Roseberry and Austin Clemons. After prom the group headed over to Dairy Queen and collided with a car occupied by North Douglas students Trace Gordon and Christensen.

DCSO showed up to the scene first, followed by North Douglas County Fire & EMS. The crews worked to calm Schuster, who was the only one able to get out on her own accord, and get Ellis-Roseberry and Clemons into ambulances.

Gilbert and Christensen were pronounced dead on the scene and were transported in body bags by Smith Lund Mills Funeral Home. Gilbert went through the windshield and died on impact, Christensen hit the steering wheel with a force that caused damage to her heart and lungs.

“Death is the great equalizer. Death does not care how cool you were in school, death does not care how big of a geek you were in school, death does not care anything about social status. Death is death,” Douglas County Medical Examiner Craig Kinney said afterwards. “The minute you die everything you were and everything you might have become is gone, forget about it. You will never grow up, you will never own fancy cars, you will never have nice houses, you will never have a family of your own, you will never go camping, you will never do any of the things you thought you might do if you get yourself dead.

“And don’t mistake it, this is getting you dead. There are several things that occurred here today that caused these people to be dead,” he said.

Gordon had to be revived multiple times on scene and was transported with a Reach 8 Air Ambulance.

Throughout the event the police scanner played in the background, including the original phone call made to 911 and a notice when a parent was about to show up to the scene.

Volunteer Maycie Wilkerson showed up as the parent whose child, Gilbert, “died” in the staged accident. She was extremely emotional and screamed at Schuster, who was in the back of a police car at the time.

Sheriff’s deputies had to hold her back and talk her down while the work on the accident scene continued.

Schuster was “arrested” toward the end of the simulation. Deputy Sean McCauley, Kinney and Douglas County District Attorney Rick Wesenberg then talked to the students about the risks of impaired driving.

“I understand the fact that this is a simulation, but unfortunately law enforcement, fire and medical services deal with these things more frequently than we should,” McCauley said. “It’s important to know that these things do happen, and they happen around here. We’re not isolated because we’re rural Douglas County.”

McCauley also explained that Schuster was arrested, not just because she was drunk but, because of the injuries and death her actions resulted in. Wesenburg said that if this were a real crash, Schuster would likely be in jail until she was about 40 years old.

McCauley also explained the process of a field sobriety test, and throughout the simulation Schuster had to perform all three parts; an eye test, a walk and turn, and a one-leg stand.

The grim reaper swiping students from classrooms was new this year and designed to jump start the conversation earlier in the day.

“The ones who aren’t always joking around are getting the message,” Christensen said.

Students who were “killed” had to design their own headstones and write their own obituaries.

“God bless I have never had a fatality from a prom where we put one of these things on,” Kinney said. “You can’t take death back, you only get to make that mistake one time. Hopefully that gives you something to think about.”

City of Roseburg holds second of two public meetings about Charter Oaks, Urban Growth Boundary swap

An informational meeting to discuss a proposed Urban Growth Boundary swap became contentious at times when concerned citizens accused Roseburg city officials of being “adversarial” and trying to “take” the land.

City officials held an open house Tuesday in the Ford Community Room to address questions about a proposed swap of two areas of hillside land out of the boundary with the Charter Oaks area at the south end of Northwest Troost Street.

Community Development Director Stuart Cowie told the estimated 50 people in attendance the swap would provide an option for development that is needed for future growth.

“We always recognized that Troost and Charter Oaks has been an area that has been identified for future urban growth,” Cowie said.

In the slideshow presentation, Cowie pointed to a document from the 1980s that suggested the area had the potential.

The decades-long interest in the area and attempts to bring it into the city was repeatedly opposed as people said the city was trying to “take” their land.

“Future annexation will primarily occur if landowners voluntarily annex or requested services,” Cowie said.

The only land that will be annexed, with approval from Douglas County, would be Northwest Troost Street and only up to an undetermined point. Any annexation after that would be new developments or by choice from the homeowner and would have to be adjacent to the city limits.

The meeting addressed concerns from the previous meeting regarding the swap in November including taxation, annexation, streets and utilities.

In Oregon, property taxes are based on the maximum assessed values, not market rate values, and are limited to a 3% increase according to the Oregon Department of Revenue.

“In the last five years, most properties haven’t gone up the full 3%,” Roseburg City Manager Lance Colley said.

The muttering in the room increased with every slide and every question until Jim Baird, the general manager at Roseburg Urban Sanitary Authority, stood up to explain the options for sewers in the Urban Growth Boundary.

He said no one would be required to hook up to the city sewer system, it would be voluntary, but would provide an option for people whose sewers fail. If a septic tank failed and sewage got into the street, the Department of Environmental Quality could force the owner to get a new system which costs at least $20,000.

Hooking up to city sewer without major discounts that could come with developers would be less than $3,000. It won’t cost people living in the area currently anything unless they chose to hook up to the sewer lines.

Because of the slope of the land, the sanitary authority has issues on a regular basis with the neighboring Loma Vista area and wants to install one or two new pump stations. The ideal location for two new stations which could fix the issue and service all 490 potential houses and a potential elementary school in the Charter Oaks area are both within the swap area.

Cowie said the department looked at several areas for a potential swap, and the existing infrastructure, historical recognition for potential growth, buildable land and existing interest made Charter Oaks the first option.

The city will conduct several studies to ensure the swap is the best choice before submitting an application to the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development. If approved, the application will go before the Douglas County Board of Commissioners and Roseburg City Council for approval as well.

The Community Development Department is looking into several options to ensure there is enough housing for existing and future citizens in Roseburg, which includes the swap which will be fleshed out more once the Housing Needs Analysis and Buildable Lands Survey is finished. City officials expects to have the report in the fall. It will hold another public meeting to discuss the survey on May 21 at an undetermined location.

One woman said she felt like she was being “steamrolled” into the city since it had been trying to annex the area since 1964.

Colley said that would be a very slow steamroller.

Alyssa McConnel sues Downtown Roseburg Association, alleges firing was retaliation for whistleblowing

Alyssa McConnel filed a lawsuit last week against the Downtown Roseburg Association, the city-run nonprofit of which McConnel used to be executive director.

The association’s board of directors fired McConnel in April 2018 for failing to maintain productive relationships with downtown businesses as her contract required, and for making “derogatory” comments about the city’s use of funds in a closed online forum, according to public records.

McConnel alleges the association fired her as retaliation for protected whistleblowing activities, and that the association violated her employment contract by firing her without previous warnings. She is seeking $339,000 in damages for loss of past and future wages plus benefits, and for “humiliation, loss of reputation, mistrust and emotional distress” McConnel experienced as a result of her firing, according to the lawsuit.

Todd Boyd, the association’s board chairman, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

In January, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Civil Rights Division dismissed McConnel’s complaint, which included the same allegations as the lawsuit.

McConnel said she hopes that the lawsuit will resolve the issue that has been going on for more than a year.

“I try not to start anything that I can’t finish,” she said Wednesday. “I want it to get wrapped up so everyone can move forward.”

She added she thinks the lawsuit will end in her favor, despite BOLI’s dismissal of her complaint. She said she hopes the lawsuit will hold the city and the association accountable for wrongdoing.

“It’s OK to think something and know something is wrong and talk about it,” McConnel said.

McConnel alleges the association violated her contract by firing her for reasons not related to ethics violations without following a progressive disciplinary model as she was promised. The progressive model would have including a verbal warning followed by a written warning before termination. She also alleges she didn’t receive semi-annual performance reviews as promised.

The association denies McConnel received “several promises” or “assurances” when she was hired that it would use a progressive disciplinary model, according to a position statement sent to BOLI by Tessan Wess, the association’s attorney.

“While the DRA/Park-Smart may elect to follow its progressive discipline procedure, the company is in no way obligated to do so,” Wess cited from the association’s employee handbook.

McConnel alleges her termination without warning was retaliation. During her time as director, she raised concerns to association board members and city officials that the city was acting illegally with regard to the association’s contracts with the city and ParkSmart, the association’s contracted parking enforcer.

In response to the BOLI complaint, the association said McConnel was eager to cut contractual ties with the city. It added she didn’t have a thorough understanding of the association’s budgets and contracts.

McConnel received multiple complaints from downtown business owners about the city’s lack of funding for downtown sidewalks, according to the lawsuit. They also complained about how parking regulations were enforced. The complaints prompted McConnel to investigate how the city used an annual fee paid by the association from parking revenues.

Her investigations led her to believe that the city was kicking back the association’s more than $40,000 annual fee.

“DRA expressly denies that it was ‘kicking back’ revenue to the city,” Wess said in the statement to BOLI. The fee goes to the city’s general fund. “There is no provision in the contract that dictates how the fee must be used,” Wess said.

“(McConnel) was concerned that the city was unlawfully providing certain businesses and individuals with preferential treatment with respect to downtown parking,” the lawsuit reads. “(She) also believed that the city was applying parking rules and standards in a discriminatory manner.”

Wess said the city has no authority to cite people for parking violations, because that is the association’s responsibility.

McConnel was also concerned a parking enforcement vehicle provided to ParkSmart by the city didn’t meet safety and emissions standards. Additionally, city funds provided to the association for garbage can pickup in town weren’t enough to pay a garbage collector minimum wage, according to McConnel.

The veracity of McConnel’s whistle-blowing complaints has no bearing on her retaliation or breach of employment contract allegations. It is unlawful for a nonprofit to take disciplinary action against or prevent an employee from disclosing information the employee “reasonably believes” constitutes wrongdoing, according to Oregon law.

At it did in the past, the association is likely to argue that McConnel’s termination had nothing to do with her whistleblowing activities.