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Klopfenstein talks homeless, getting hired

Growing up, many 12-year-old boys aspire to be astronauts, policemen, race car drivers or firefighters.

For Sgt. Gary Klopfenstein, that sixth grade desire has turned into lifelong career in which he has risen to the highest rank.

This week it was announced that Klopfenstein would succeed Roseburg Police Department’s current chief Jim Burge.

The humble problem-solver has been preparing himself for the position long before he knew Burge was retiring.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, not just now, it’s been way back even as I came up through the ranks,” Klopfenstein said, sporting a crew cut and wire-rimmed glasses which frame his blue eyes.

He said he tried to put himself in different leadership roles to learn things that could potentially help him for the management position.

“I was talking with some leaders within our department and they were telling me, ‘Hey, you know, if you put yourself in the right spots you will learn leadership skills,’” Klopfenstein said.

Early in his career he worked with the Douglas Interagency Narcotics Teams, and he later became the commander of the Emergency Response Team.

He said he’s been able to forge collaborative relationships over the years that have helped the police department get things accomplished.

He recalled a time when homeless people were starting fires in an area off Pine Street called “The Point.”

“The Band-Aid was, you’d write tickets,” Klopfenstein said. “They would leave and start another fire by the time you got to the end of the bike path. I looked at it and said, ‘How can we really solve the problem?’”

He noticed that homeless people were sitting on concrete slabs that had washed up from the river.

So, he called an employee he knew in the Public Works Department and asked if they could get an excavator to remove the concrete pieces.

They did, and he said there hasn’t been a fire since.

“It’s those kind of relationships and networks that will help a department out,” Klopfenstein said.

Klopfenstein said homeless people are one of the main issues facing Roseburg.

“They’re getting in trouble for a behavior that they’re doing and sometimes we have to react to that behavior. And sometimes, if they’re creating a behavior that’s alarming or its illegal and we have to take action, then we have to take action and we have to maybe arrest them,” Klopfenstein said. “But what’s the real problem? The real problem is their mental illness.”

Once a week, he said a Compass Behavioral Health employee will do a ride-along with one of the Roseburg officers to try and contact some of the residents that have mental illnesses and try to get them services.

He said it’s been effective, so much so that they’re planning on adding another Compass staff member.

However, he said, there are those who may not want help.

“There are some people who just simply don’t want to live what we would consider normal. They want to live in a tent and live free or however they want to word it,” Klopfenstein said, “And for those people that’s their life and they have that right. Where it starts infringing, of course, is when they are leaving debris on sidewalks and committing violations or crimes, and then we have to address those.”

But, he added, “If we address the core issue, the behavior will usually correct itself.”

He said the downtown exclusion zone — which bans repeat criminals from downtown for a period of 180 days and arrests them for trespassing if they violate the ban — has been very effective.

“It’s another tool for our officers to use to ensure that any lawlessness downtown is combatted,” Klopfenstein said.

He said there may not be a high number of people being excluded, but it targets specific troublemakers.

“That one person can make the whole downtown area have a sigh of relief when they’re excluded,” Klopfenstein said.

Almost twenty years ago, Klopfenstein started applying to jobs after graduating from Western Oregon University having studied law enforcement.

He said the field was competitive in 1999 and it was hard to get your foot in the door, so he applied everywhere to get interview experience.

His parents had a farm in the Willamette Valley and he said his dad kept trying to convince him to come back to farming.

“I’ve always been the person that in the middle of the night will come help somebody if they need it. That’s just my personality,” Klopfenstein said, “I think I gravitated towards this.”

He interviewed with the Florence Police Department and told that he knew he had gotten the job. She wasn’t very excited about moving there, but he had an interview with Roseburg the following day, he said.

He got the Roseburg job.

“Initially I wasn’t sure this was my city,” Klopfenstein said, “It didn’t take long, even as soon as we got to the academy a couple months in I realized Roseburg’s really squared away.”

Now, he said he’s grateful for the opportunity he’s been given to become chief, but he’s not the type to brag.

“I will show you through my work effort and my work product what I want you to know. I’m not going to boast about it,” Klopfenstein said.

And later, “I’m super humbled by even getting this position,” he said, “It’s amazing.”

Local volunteers build beds for kids who need them

GLIDE — J.P. Wilson of Glide had been hearing sermons in church about the importance of finding a spiritual mission. So he’d been thinking and praying a lot about that, when one night at 1:30 in the morning he ran across an online show featuring Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame.

This show was called ”Returning the Favor,” and the episode featured a nonprofit Idaho-based organization called Sleep in Heavenly Peace. The organization builds beds for kids who don’t have them.

“I clicked on it, and it was like a light went off, and it was like there you go, there it is,” Wilson said.

Wilson decided to start a Glide chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace.

Wilson went to Twin Falls, Idaho, where the nonprofit is based, to join other chapter presidents in a weekend training, which included making deliveries to kids. He remembers one little girl, about 3 years old, just beaming as she jumped up onto her new bunk bed, and he knew the three grown men who were with him were hiding tears behind their sunglasses. So was he.

Once you make one of these deliveries, he said, you’re hooked.

J.P. and his wife Kim Wilson delivered their chapter’s first bunk bed on Mother’s Day, to a Winston family with two little boys. They’ve built two of the wooden bunk beds in their garage. One is ready for delivery to a Sutherlin family in need.

Now, the Wilsons are looking for volunteers and donations to keep the program going.

J.P. Wilson said there are other organizations that offer food and shelter for people who need them, but this is the only one that offers a bed.

The recipients of the beds are kids who are sleeping on mattresses or air mattresses on the floor. It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep under those circumstances, and J.P. Wilson said that makes a big difference in a kid’s life.

“There’s no question about the value of a good night’s sleep, especially for kids. As adults, we all know how horrible we feel the next day if we don’t sleep well. It’s proven that kids study better, they’re healthier and they act better if they sleep better, so that’s the point,” he said.

Kim Wilson said she also likes that the beds give kids something of their own.

“To me it was getting them off the cold floor, giving them some independence, a place where they could play and read and study,” she said.

They don’t offer the beds as a step up for kids who have beds but are looking for better ones. Many of the recipients will be foster children, because foster parents are mandated to have beds before they can take on new kids.

J.P. and Kim Wilson are retired from the Boeing company. They worked in a satellite division in Los Angeles, where he was an engineer scientist and she was an industrial engineer who actually built the satellites. They moved to Glide three years ago because they have grandchildren here.

Kim Wilson said she has a passion for helping kids, so it didn’t take much for J.P. to convince her to start a chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace. She was nervous about how to finance the project, but after their first delivery, she was all in.

“I’m hooked. We will figure out a way,” she said.

The parts of the bed are built in advance by volunteers, and they’re assembled on site at the recipients’ houses. The assembly is fast.

“It was 30 minutes the other day from start to stop, beds made, kids in bed, photos taken,” J.P. Wilson said.

The Glide chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace is in its infancy. For now, it’s primarily made up of the Wilsons, who’ve received help from one other couple. They hope to draw in volunteers and donations, and to build to the point where they can have several beds ready to go at a time in case they receive short notice from the foster care system of a family with an immediate need for a bed. They’re also looking for corporate sponsors and financial donations. And they need donations of new twin bedding, including comforters, sheets, pillows and mattresses.

Nationwide, the organization has grown by leaps and bounds. At the beginning of the year, Sleep in Heavenly Peace had 14 chapters in seven states. Today, thanks largely to Mike Rowe’s show, it has 41 chapters in 27 states, with hundreds of new chapter requests pending.

The chapter the Wilsons started is Oregon’s first. They plan to offer beds from south of Cottage Grove down to Myrtle Creek. Until a coastal chapter’s established, they’ll also cover Reedsport to Coos Bay.

There is no hard and fast data about just how many kids here need beds, but J.P. Wilson said the national organization, which has been taking bed requests since 2011, estimates between 2 and 3 percent of the population has kids who need beds. The need may be even greater in Douglas County, where child poverty and foster care rates are very high.

Douglas County’s child poverty rate is 30 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Only three Oregon counties have higher child poverty rates. For single-parent families, the Douglas County statistics are even worse, with 48 percent living in poverty.

“There’s a lot of need out there for sure,” J.P. Wilson said. “Beds are something I think a lot of us take for granted. You climb in it every night, you get a good night’s sleep, you get out of it. Maybe you make the bed, maybe you don’t.”

The Wilsons don’t plan to rest until every kid in the county can have the same experience.

Fiery vehicle crash shuts down I-5 southbound; fatalities reported

Updated 1:50 p.m. Tuesday.

A fiery crash involving two vehicles in the southbound lanes of Interstate 5 near milepost 153 has resulted in four fatalities, according to scanner reports Saturday night.

Oregon State Police and the Douglas County Sheriff's Office medical examiner have identified the four people killed in the crash and released their names Tuesday afternoon.

The driver of the Acura Integra involved in the crash was Gayle Ward, 65, of Vancouver, Washington, the driver of the Nissan Murano was Jennifer Montano, 18, of White City, and the passengers of the Nissan were Luciana Tellez-Cabezas and Esmeralda Nava, both 18 and from White City. 

The crash, which was reported shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday, happened near milepost 153 about 19 miles north of Sutherlin. Witnesses waiting in traffic a few miles north of the Elkton/Drain turnoff reported hearing at least two explosions and seeing heavy flames and smoke.

Two people were receiving CPR on scene and a REACH Air Ambulance helicopter had been activated. CPR efforts and REACH were suspended a few minutes later.

Ron and Coreen Harker were on their way home to Roseburg on I-5 with their daughter Grace when the crash occurred about eight cars ahead of them.

As of 10:20 p.m., Coreen Harker said they were told to expect to remain in the same place for some time.

“We were told they are not going to let us through for quite awhile,” Harker said.

According to the TripCheck website, a detour was put in place for southbound motorists. ODOT warned the closure will likely last several hours because of the crash investigation. Southbound motorists were advised to use alternate routes. All northbound lanes were open.

Check back for more updates on this developing story