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Two transportation district incumbents face challengers in special district election

Douglas County Transportation District incumbents Kat Stone and Mark Hendershott will face challengers in the May 21 election.

Despite the name, the Douglas County Transportation District is not a subcommittee underneath the Douglas County commissioners. In fact, it’s not part of county government at all. It’s an independent government body tasked with taking in state and federal funding and determining how it will be spent to provide public transit services that offer county residents with an alternative to driving cars. Many people who rely on those services are elderly or disabled and cannot drive.

Transportation services were formerly provided by county government, but the transportation district was created last year to take them over, a transition that is expected to be completed by the end of June.

Stone and Hendershott were elected less than a year ago to the new district board, but the board will have staggered terms so that all seven board members are never brand new again. Along with Jennifer Newell-Bragg, Stone and Hendershott drew the short sticks when it came to determine who would be up for election this year. The other four won’t be up for reelection until 2021. Newell-Bragg’s name is also on the ballot, but she has no challenger.

Stone’s challenger is Jay Mitchell, a retired truck driver from Wilbur. It’s not clear whether Mitchell wants the position, though. When The News-Review reached Mitchell by phone Friday afternoon and asked why he wanted to be on the board, his response was, “Well, I’m not sure I do.” After that, the phone went dead and subsequent attempts to reach Mitchell were unsuccessful.

Mitchell did leave a telephone message on Saturday saying he was in Italy and his phone’s battery had died, but he didn’t elaborate on his candidacy. Efforts to reach him Monday and Tuesday were also unsuccessful.

Stone has been a nurse for 30 years, and her interest in public transit grew out of her concern for patients who had difficulty traveling to medical appointments.

Stone said she represents a segment of the population the district is attempting to help — people advancing in age and on a fixed income.

“There will be times when I can’t afford to have an automobile repair and I will have to rely on the public transit system, so I want to build the system that I would want to use,” she said.

She also works with people with disabilities whose independence is based on their ability to navigate the public transportation system.

“I don’t think that our public transportation is currently dependable, reliable and adequate to support the needs of those people,” she said.

Running public transit is complicated, she said, and if voters choose her they’ll be getting an incumbent who has worked through the early stages of the district’s formation for the past six months.

“We have had to do so much and we’ve had so many trainings and been to so many different meetings. There are workshops all the time that help you get on board with where we are and what we’re doing,” she said. “It’s a complicated process and I don’t think that anybody can suddenly come on and be able to really function in a board position.”

Hendershott’s challenger is Alyssa McConnel. McConnel sits on the transportation district’s budget committee and regularly attends the district’s board meetings even though she’s not currently a member of the board.

She’s also a former Downtown Roseburg Association executive director who made an unsuccessful bid for Douglas County commissioner last year. McConnel was fired from the Downtown Roseburg Association job in April 2018, and is currently involved in a lawsuit against DRA. She alleges she was fired in retaliation for whistleblowing about how the city government was using money that DRA collected through parking enforcement. She has been an outspoken advocate for transparency in government.

Her mantra during the county commissioner race last year was that she was the candidate who would get stuff done, and she made a similar point when asked about this race.

“I bring a sense of young energy to the board. I am a doer and I am really big on public input,” she said.

McConnel said her interest in marketing would also make her a good fit for a seat on the transportation board.

“It’s a new organization that needs to brand itself as a separate government entity, because that’s what they are,” she said. “They are new but there’s a lot of confusion out in the community and public of exactly what this board is and what they do and where they get their money and what’s actually happening with transportation.”

She said she recently thought “Connecting People with Places” would be a good slogan for the district.

McConnel said there’s money available to create new routes, purchase new buses and make more connections with neighboring counties. She said while she was knocking on doors during her run for commissioner last year, she in one day knocked on the doors of four people who said they’d lost their jobs because they’d missed the bus.

“I’m really big on bringing jobs or filling jobs in Douglas County and a huge barrier to that is transportation,” she said.

Hendershott is a Sutherlin attorney with a longstanding interest in public transportation who said he’s been interested in transit since he put himself through law school as a bus driver for the Portland company that was later taken over by TriMet. He said he was initially told he couldn’t be a bus driver because he was so tall.

“I’m 6-foot-4 and the superintendent took a look at me and said I wouldn’t hire you, you’re too tall, but federal law said they had to,” he said. He said the buses had low ceilings at that time.

Hendershott was a member of the Transit Advisory Committee of the Umpqua Public Transit System in the 1990s, when the U-Trans bus system was operated by the Umpqua Regional Council of Governments. He favors expanded services that would help Douglas County residents make connections with buses headed for Eugene.

He said voters should choose him because he has substantial experience dealing with special districts as a lawyer, and he serves on the current board.

“I think we’re getting something accomplished. It’s had some teething troubles but we’re moving forward,” he said.

Hendershott said McConnel appears to be serious about wanting to serve the public, but it doesn’t outweigh his experience as an incumbent.

“I think I can do a better job, at least at this stage of the district’s development,” he said.

He said he wants to work toward the district having a stable financial base to continue operations and expand services to include Saturday service and better coverage for people in outlying areas who need to get to work, doctors or the courthouse in Roseburg.

“What I really hope to see is a nice stable transportation network that will actually provide service to the people in the community on a reliable basis adequate for their needs,” he said.

Hendershott declined to provide a mugshot to accompany this story.

“I haven’t had my picture taken in years, and I like it that way,” he said.

Students walk, bike to school

Fullerton IV Elementary School students were greeted by teachers, city officials and police officers at the corner of West Berdine Street and West Sharp Avenue Wednesday morning for the walk and roll to school day.

Some of the students walked or rode their bicycles to the meeting point, while others were dropped off by their parents or by one of the school buses.

“I usually ride my bike, or my dad drops me off,” fifth grader Trey Brown said. “It’s kinda relaxing and quiet. The buses get really loud.”

Several of the students who participated in the school event already walk or ride their bike to school.

“I’ve done it before,” fifth grader Emmanuel Guzman said. “I go with my brother sometimes.”

Blue Zones Project Manager Kirk Blaine said although getting kids to walk or bike to school is one of the objectives, another goal is to emphasize the social aspect of being able to walk with friends.

“I like being able to see the trees and when I walk with my friend we’d do projects and see what we could see on the way to school,” fifth grader Olivia Mechan said. Her younger brother, kindergartner Collin Mechan, said he liked seeing the flowers.

Nikki Messenger, Roseburg’s interim city manager, said, “We want to make sure we provide healthy alternatives to transportation, and this is a great place to start.”

When the sidewalk near the meeting point got too crowded, students started to make their way to the school with teachers guiding them.

Students who got off the bus at the intersection would get a chance to interact with a police K-9.

Blue Zones Project sponsored the event, which included prizes and giveaways that were handed out at an assembly once the students made it to school.

Teachers who guided the students to school all wore red in support of a statewide push to demand more funding for education.

Students at Glide Elementary, Hucrest Elementary, Fir Grove Elementary and Eastwood Elementary also participated in the event. Participation was encouraged at Green Elementary and Winchester Elementary will host a walk and roll to school day on May 15.

The nationwide bike and walk to school day is typically held the first week in October, but the statewide walk and roll to school day is the first week in May.

Public memorials next week to honor veterans whose remains were forgotten

A series of three public memorials will be held at the Roseburg National Cemetery Annex next week to honor 28 veterans whose remains were forgotten on the shelf at a local mortuary — some for as many as 44 years.

The first service will be held at 1 p.m. May 14 and will honor four veterans who served in World War I. The Douglas County Veterans Forum, which is organizing the event, is encouraging members of the public to attend the service.

The remains have been securely stored at the Douglas County Courthouse since April 19 and will be transported to the cemetery in a horse drawn carriage with police escort.

The ceremony will include a flag line, processions by veteran motorcycle groups, singing of the National Anthem, prayers, eulogies, obituary readings, a bell-ringing ceremony, rifle salutes, flag folding and playing of taps. Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars honor guard and service honor guard military personnel will also participate, and bagpipe honors will be provided by Pipes of Honor, followed by interment of the remains in the cemetery’s columbarium.

Subsequent ceremonies will be held at 1 p.m. May 15 and 16. The second service, on May 15, will inter 11 Army veterans who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The third, on May 16, will inter seven Navy and Air Force veterans. These veterans will receive the same services and military honors as those honored the first day, including transport in the horse drawn carriage.

The remains were discovered through the efforts of Veterans Forum member Carol Hunt and Gigi Grimes, the former cemetery technician for the Roseburg National Cemetery. They searched for veterans among the Wilson’s Chapel of the Roses’ records on the cremated remains left unclaimed by relatives. They found 28, all of whose deaths predated the current ownership and management of Wilson’s, the most recent having been in 2000. Efforts to find and contact the veterans’ families are ongoing.

Forum member Jim Little said he hopes community members turn out in large numbers to the memorials.

“In other communities across our nation when forgotten veteran remains were discovered the services were attended by thousands. We feel Roseburg can do likewise,” Little said.

Several state and federal officials will attend the event, including Gena Farrisee, the executive director for strategy and analysis for the National Cemetery Administration; Constantin Severe, public safety policy advisor to Gov. Kate Brown; and field representatives for Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Rep. Peter DeFazio. Representatives of the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs and the military branches are also anticipated to attend, Little said.

Event organizers recommend community members planning to attend a ceremony arrive at least 45 minutes before the service to secure parking.

Two men arrested in Roseburg area in connection to Salem murder

Two men were arrested Tuesday near Roseburg in connection to a shooting overnight in northeast Salem that left two people dead and one injured.

Authorities responded to the 3600 block of Joshua Ave NE on a report of a shooting at around 10:15 p.m. Monday, according to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office

When deputies arrived, Bradley Kelley, 35, of Salem, was already dead. Michael Buntjer, 35, of Salem and Coral Olfert, 26, of Salem, were found with injuries and taken to the hospital, according to Sgt. Jeremy Landers. Buntjer died at the hospital.

Olferts’ father, Roger Olfert, said his daughter was shot in the abdomen and is in stable condition at Salem Hospital.

He said Coral and her two friends were outside the home when her former boyfriend threatened the group with a knife.

The group chased the suspect off, but he returned with a gun.

Roger Olfert said he was in bed when he heard three or four shots fired. At first, he thought they were firecrackers.

“I never thought I’d be exposed to anything like this,” he said.

Deputies stayed at the scene through the night. Officials arrested Keonte Caldwell, 23, and Curtis Welch, 26, both of Salem, on Tuesday after finding them in the Roseburg area.

Caldwell and Welch were known to the victims, Landers said.

Both deaths have been ruled homicides as a result of gunshot wounds, following autopsies conducted Tuesday by the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office.

Caldwell and Welch are expected to be charged with aggravated murder and attempted aggravated murder, Landers said. There is currently no booking photo available of either suspect.

Salem homicide suspects arrested in Douglas County

Authorities say two men were fatally shot in Salem on Monday night and two people were arrested in Douglas County in connection with the shootings, according to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies responded to a shooting at approximately 10:15 p.m. Monday, in the 3600 block of Northeast Joshua Avenue, Salem.

The sheriff’s office said when deputies arrived, 35-year-old Bradley Kelley was found dead.

Two other victims were taken to a hospital. Sheriff’s deputies said 35-year-old Michael Buntjer died at the hospital and 26-year-old Coral Olfert suffered injuries that were not life threatening.

Olferts’ father, Roger Olfert, said his daughter was shot in the abdomen and is in stable condition at Salem Hospital, according to The Statesman Journal.

He said Coral Olfert and her two friends were outside the home when her former boyfriend threatened the group with a knife.

The group chased the suspect off, but he returned with a gun.

Roger Olfert said he was in bed when he heard three or four shots fired. At first, he thought they were firecrackers.

“I never thought I’d be exposed to anything like this,” he told The Statesman Journal.

The Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office said both men died of gunshot wounds.

Keonte Ngai-Demille Caldwell, 23, and Curtis Deshawn Welch, 27, both of Salem, were arrested Tuesday on Interstate 5 south of Roseburg.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office said the suspects were known to the victims and resided in the Salem area. Both will be charged with aggravated murder and attempted aggravated murder, according to the Marion County Sherriff’s Office.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office is being assisted by the Marion County District Attorney’s Office, Marion County Medical Examiner’s Office, Oregon State Police, Keizer Police Department, and Woodburn Police Department.