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Douglas County District Attorney says March shooting was justified, cops were heroes

Douglas County District Attorney Rick Wesenberg said Thursday that a Douglas County grand jury concluded that the use of deadly force by each officer involved in a shootout on March 9 in the Green District was justified.

The shootout happened after police tried to stop a vehicle coming out of Love’s Truck Stop onto Grant Smith Road, and a short chase ended in a gun battle in a field at the east end of the road. The car caught fire and burned.

The investigation found there were human remains in the car, but the body still has not been identified.

“After careful and thoughtful deliberation, the grand jury concluded that the use of deadly force by each of the officers involved was justified,” Wesenberg said.

Wesenberg showed video of the shootout that was taken by a citizen that showed flashes from the rifles coming from the shooter in the car and from the law enforcement officers returning fire and the loud pops of many shots being fired.

He detailed the timeline of the incident, which started with a stolen car from a Walmart store in Eugene.

On Thursday, March 7, Gary Swindler, of Eugene, drove his 2005 black Subaru Outback to the store and while walking inside, he accidentally dropped his car keys.

“An unknown male is seen on video surveillance picking up the keys and walking through the parking lot presumably clicking the button to see which car is going to light up,” Wesenberg said.

The male is then seen getting into Swindler’s car and driving away. Swindler reported the car stolen and told Eugene police he had two weapons in the car, including an AK-47 style rifle that had a 75-round drum magazine and a Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistol.

On March 9, at about 6 p.m., Douglas County dispatch received a call from a Wesley Edwards, who was at Love’s Truck Stop, and said he had located his friend’s car that had been stolen earlier in Eugene. Edwards reported that two people got into the Subaru Outback after they had been in Arby’s and fueled the car.

Wesenberg said police responded to the truck stop just as the suspect was leaving and pulling onto Grant Smith Road. Officers pursued the vehicle as it took a left turn out of the driveway. The car slowed and police saw the passenger jump out the right side of the car. The man, who was later identified as Sabre Eddings, was detained but later determined to not be involved. He had apparently met the driver of the Subaru just a few hours before.

Corp. Dan Schwenn, Deputy Brent Everett, both of the sheriff’s office, and Oregon State Police Trooper Sam Clayton all got there at about the same time. They pursued the Subaru which veered onto a gravel driveway near the old Starlight Drive-in location.

“The Subaru travels onto the field and turns to reverse direction and gets stuck,” Wesenberg said. “Schwen drives into the field and his patrol car also gets stuck and they’re separated by less than 50 yards.”

Wesenberg described the events that led to the shootout and car fire.

Schwenn assumed the driver was going to get out and flee on foot, so he jumped out of his car and ran toward the Subaru ordering the driver to show his hands.

“Schwenn sees something come out of the driver’s side window and the muzzle flash of gunfire. He sees the first round hit the ground in front of the Subaru and each round was getting closer and closer to Corp. Schwenn. He knew right then and there, the driver was trying to kill him,” Wesenberg said.

Schwenn then ran to the right and aimed his rifle at the Subaru and returned fire.

“(Schwenn) knew if he kept running toward the Subaru, he would surely be killed, and he’s in an open field and there is no cover,” Wesenberg said. “He knows the bullets are still flying at him, he can hear them and literally feel the heat as they’re passing him. He shoots all the rounds from his rifle.”

Clayton had run toward the Subaru with his weapon to try to help Schwenn. Clayton then heard gunfire coming out of the Subaru, so he ran back to his car, while hearing rounds from the AK-47 whizzing over his head.

Clayton retrieved his sniper rifle and through his scope, he could see the shooter in the car, so he fired three times but still saw movement from within the vehicle.

Meanwhile, Deputy Erik Johnson and Dep. Chelsea Thomas arrived at the scene and actually moved through the line of fire.

“During those harrowing moments, they have no choice but to speed through the line of fire in an attempt to get some cover,” Wesenberg said.

Once they found cover at a barn, Johnson said he could see the silhouette of the shooter and fired his rifle three times.

Then Lt. Jerry Tilley and Sgt. Andrew Scriven arrived at the scene and knew that Schwenn and Clayton were in immediate danger out in the open field. Both fired shots into the Subaru. The car began to smoke and burn and the officers form a tactical team to rescue Schwenn and Clayton from the field.

Wesenberg said at that point, it was determined that there is no longer an immediate danger and the scene was secured.

The Douglas County Medical Examiner removed human remains from the car and sent them to Portland for an autopsy.

Oregon State Medical Examiner Dr. Rebecca Millius determined that the shooter died before the fire started in the car. She also determined there appeared to be gunshot wounds on the torso, but she could not determine which, if any, particular shots were fatal.

Roseburg police are still trying to determine the identity of the shooter. Police have a photo of the man from a security camera at Walmart in Eugene.

“While we do not know who this individual was, we do know absolutely what his intent was,” Wesenberg said. “He wanted to escape arrest that day, and he was willing to murder as many police officers that it took to make that happen, and it is only through providence that he did not succeed.”

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said the incident demonstrates the inherent dangers that law enforcement officers are faced with every day.

“I commend the courageous actions of these officers as a harrowing shootout unfolded,” Hanlin said. “It was only after the suspect started shooting at officers that they were forced to end his threatening behavior with deadly physical force. They responded exactly the way we expected them to respond, and exactly the way they had to, to protect their own lives and to protect the lives of nearby citizens.”

Lt. Steve Mitchell of the Oregon State Police said he was pleased the way the different agencies worked together.

“The description of the events that unfolded on March 9 is a testament of how well the law enforcement agencies work together in our community,” Mitchell said. “The response and actions by all law enforcement involved in this event demonstrate our commitment to ensure the safety of the public.”

DeFazio celebrates steelhead sanctuary at North Forty with Frank and Jeanne Moore

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, stopped by the North Forty Beer Company Thursday to honor Frank and Jeanne Moore.

DeFazio and the Moores were at the brewery to celebrate new protections for the North Umpqua watershed that the Moores believe could make the difference for the survival of wild steelhead on that river. The bill, which sets aside almost 100,000 acres of land as the Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Management Area, was passed as part of a collection of bills known as the public lands package that won broad bipartisan support and was signed into law by the president this month. DeFazio introduced the bill protecting the steelhead management area in the House.

The North Umpqua is world-renowned for its fishing, and no one knows that better than Frank Moore, a World War II veteran and member of the Fly Fishing Hall of Fame. Both Moores have worked to protect the area for decades.

DeFazio is one of many famous people to have fished the river with Frank Moore. On Thursday, he presented Moore with a signed copy of the bill and pictures from their fishing trip on the river last year. DeFazio joked that he learned a lot but didn’t catch anything that day.

The Moores said the important thing is the new protections for the salmonids, not the recognition for themselves.

Frank Moore said it would have taken just one really bad year to wipe out the salmonids in his beloved river stretch.

“I just hope with the little bit of protection it will get now, it won’t come to that,” he said. “The way they were going for a while up there, they would just rape, pillage and burn. And finally, they’ve got a little bit of common sense. We can get the timber, but we have to be a little more careful and they weren’t for a while. They weren’t for a while.”

Jeanne Moore said she hopes the fish will now have a chance.

“I’m just glad that strip of land is being cared for the way it should be. That makes you feel really good that our name’s on it, that’s very nice, but the main thing is the care it’s going to get,” she said.

DeFazio said Frank Moore is an “extraordinary person.”

“I’m privileged to know him and I am really, really happy to be able to honor him and to provide protection in perpetuity for I think the greatest salmon and steelhead river in the world right here in the Umpqua, and protecting the upper reaches of Steamboat and the sanctuary there is absolutely critical.

As the climate warms, there’s still going to be a place the fish can go,” DeFazio said.

He said World War II veterans like Frank Moore are treasures, and he was thrilled to be able to get this done during Moore’s lifetime.

Parks board, environmentalists tour Whistler's Bend as log removal continues

Sunshine sparkled on the North Umpqua River as members of the Douglas County Parks Advisory Board and a group of local environmentalists met at Whistler’s Bend County Park on Thursday morning.

It had been two months since controversy erupted over the county’s decision to log hazard trees at the park. Last month’s snowstorm took out more trees.

In a portion of the park filled primarily with primitive campsites, logs were being lifted onto trucks. Some were Douglas firs that have some economic value. Others were oaks simply being hauled away and likely to be given to the United Community Action Network and distributed as firewood for those in need.

The meeting was congenial and informational, with questions asked and answered about the changes that had taken place there. In much of the park, thick stands of forest remain standing.

As for the trees that were removed, Parks Director Rocky Houston said a combination of factors led to the problem.

He said drought weakened many trees in the area, and it had poor soil because the campground was developed fairly recently. Trees at risk were removed there in greater numbers than the rest of the park because more were in danger of hitting campsites or vehicles, Houston said.

Many leaning trees that weren’t threatening campsites or cars were left in place.

Then the heavy snow came and wiped many of them out, he said. Houston said he’s not sure how many trees in all have been removed.

Houston said he’d be personally liable if he left up identified hazard trees.

“We are trying to mitigate potential loss, make our customers safe, and that’s what we’ve done here,” Houston said.

Discussion was friendly through most of the meeting, but resentment among the environmentalists about the now sparsely wooded campground surfaced when the participants stopped there to take a look.

Environmentalist Kat Stone asserted healthy trees were cut down as well as hazard and storm-damaged trees, but Houston said that wasn’t true. Stone called Houston’s version of events around the logging in the park “a fairy tale.”

Board member Phil Bigler objected. He said the county would have no reason to cut down healthy trees at a park.

“What good would it do to log all the parks? Then no one would come,” he said.

Stone said this summer’s campers were going to be “pissed” when they saw the campground, which she compared to a doughnut hole.

But board member Jerry Chartier said he found the newly opened up space beautiful, and Houston said he plans to improve the campground by bringing in native lilacs and Oregon grape to create hedges between the campsites.

Randy Houser, Bret Michaels headline Douglas County Fair

Randy Houser, Bret Michaels, Collective Soul and Thrice are headed to this summer’s Douglas County Fair.

The lineup was announced Friday morning on the fair’s Facebook page.

County music artist Randy Houser will play at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 6. American rock band Collective Soul will play on 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 7. Bret Michaels will play 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 8. On Friday, Aug. 9, California rock band Thrice will play at 7:30 p.m. in the amphitheater.

Fairgrounds manager Dan Hults said it’s a wide range of talent this year.

“Country always does well here, and Randy Houser will do very well Tuesday night,” Hults said. “Bret Michaels will be a big draw, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what Thrice does on Friday night. It’s a little younger crowd.”

Hults said Collective Soul, the Wednesday night show, could be a big draw as well. The group is billed as an American rock band, and its first big hit was a single in 1994 called “Shine” that spent eight weeks as No. 1 on the album-oriented rock music charts.

Legendary rocker Bret Michaels, who rose to fame as the frontman of Poison, has worked with Loretta Lynn, Jimmy Buffett, Ace Frehley of KISS, Michael Anthony of Van Halen, and members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and others.

All of the concerts are free with admission to the fair, which is $10 for 13-and-older. Kids 12-and-under are free every day this year. Seniors are free until 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Senior Day, and $8 the rest of the fair.

The reserved seats, which are $30 each, go on sale April 6 and will be available online only at that time.

The Douglas County Fair will run from Aug. 6-10.