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Carrying the torch for Special Olympics

Police officers in Douglas County, along with some Special Olympics athletes carried the Special Olympics torch on a cool Tuesday morning through Douglas County from Tri City to Oakland to help raise money to bring back the Oregon State Special Olympics games for the athletes.

Officers from the Myrtle Creek Police Department started the run at 7 a.m. Tuesday on Old Highway 99 between Tri City and Myrtle Creek. They carried the torch to Winston, where Winston police officers and Douglas County Sheriff’s deputies picked up the torch and carried it to Roseburg. They met up with Special Olympic athletes and Roseburg police officers at the Douglas County Courthouse.

Because of funding woes, Oregon Special Olympics canceled its summer games in 2018 and winter games this year. Torch run organizers are hoping that with this year’s fundraising efforts, those events can be restored.

“It’s important to them (the athletes) to get the games going,” said Patti Knight, a softball coach and the mother of Special Olympian Dony Knight. “We know it’s going to be one more year, but it’s important to all of them.”

Several counties around the state participated in the run, and normally the torch would arrive in the Portland area for the start of the state games just like the regular Olympics. Since there are no state games this year, the torch was taken to a soccer invitational tournament in Portland and lit there.

“It’s always really exciting because you carry the little torch, but when you get to the ceremony, they light this huge torch,” said Julie Jackson-Merritt, who is a parent of an Olympian and board member of Douglas County Special Olympics.

The event is a fundraiser for the state program and funds raised go to putting on the state games. Since the games were cancelled this year, there are plans for some regional competition, and each sport will have some tournaments this summer.

“So they’ll get to use all the practice they’ve been doing in bocci, softball, golf and track,” Knight said.

Roseburg Police and Sheriff’s office employees picked up the torch and headed north, taking turns running in the leg from Roseburg on Highway 99 to Calapooia Street near exit 135, where Sutherlin officers took the hand-off and carried it on up to Oakland to finish the Douglas County portion of the run.

“It’s just a good way for us to show our support for Special Olympics and special athletes that we have here in Douglas County,” said Sheriff John Hanlin.

“It’s a great cause, it’s fun and we enjoy it,” said Roseburg Police Chief Gary Klopfenstein, who ran a leg of the relay along with his wife Jennifer.

The Law Enforcement Torch Run is now in all 50 states and more than 30 foreign countries. In Oregon, more than 1,500 law enforcement personnel from federal, military, state, county, and local agencies participate in the Torch Run campaign. All money raised in Oregon will help put on the Oregon Special Olympics games next year in Portland.

One chief retires, another is sworn in in Myrtle Creek

MYRTLE CREEK — As one police chief stepped down, another was sworn in to take his place at the Myrtle Creek Police Department.

Jonathan Brewster took his oath as the new police chief Monday morning, sworn in by Myrtle Creek City Recorder Joshua Norton. He takes over for retiring chief Don Brown, who leaves after 14 years as the head of the police department. Brewster, 41, was a reserve for MCPD and was hired full time by Brown shortly after he took over the department.

“He believed in me and he’s been a great mentor and he came to me about three years ago and asked if I would be interested in taking the chief position when he retired,” Brewster said.

Brewster, who grew up in Myrtle Creek, had moved up to sergeant the eight-officer force. He said Brown leaves the department in good shape.

“It’s heading in the right path and I just want to continue heading in the (direction) Don did,” he said. “The changes that we’ve made with the technology and laws, I just want to continue what Don did.”

Brewster said the department is very young, with not a lot of experience, and some coming out of the police academy that are not even on the job yet. But his biggest challenge he says, will be make sure they have the tools and training they need to do their job to serve the citizens of Myrtle Creek. And he’s already had a head start on the administrative part of the job.

“Don’s been really good about letting me do this for about the last six to eight months, doing the chief’s job and being there to answer my questions when I had them,” Brewster said.

Brown says he’s leaving the department in good hands.

“I think the condition I’m leaving the department is like night and day from when I took over,”Brown said. “They’ve got the equipment to do the job, and they’ve got real good support from this community and the council. It’s been a real smooth ride for 14 years.”

Brown, 59, began his police career in Myrtle Creek in 1989 before going to Lincoln City in 1991. Six years later, he joined the Oregon State Police and served for seven years before going to Iraq for a year in 2004 with plans to train Iraqi police officers. But instead, he ended up being the deputy regional commander and was in charge of the south-central multinational division.

Law enforcement, Brown says, has changed in a lot of ways since he started in Myrtle Creek.

“In law enforcement in general, obviously technology has changed dramatically, the laws have changed,” Brown said. “It seems like law enforcement is getting squeezed, you just about can’t arrest anybody for dope in the state of Oregon.”

And with the change in marijuana laws, Brown says it’s a lot harder to get into vehicles for searches.

“It used to be if you smelled marijuana, you had probable cause to get into a car,” he said. “So now you don’t get all the white dope that goes along with it.”

Brown will miss the camaraderie, but he plans to still participate in community activities in the city and school district.

Brown plans to spend more time at his cabin east of Klamath Falls doing a lot of riding and hunting, and even has a long ride planned with his horse and mule along the Pacific Crest Trail for about three weeks this summer.

As he leaves law enforcement, he is most proud of the fact that he is leaving in good standing.

“Surviving it, that’s the main thing, and able to finish it on a positive note and being able to keep it together all those years,” Brown said.

12-year-old Lucas Saylor spends a night alone in the wild, after technology failure

Erin Saylor received a phone call from family members that they couldn’t find her 12-year-old son Lucas around 9:30 p.m. May 26 while the family was camping at Toketee.

“I totally thought they were joking,” she said.

They weren’t.

Lucas Saylor had gone bow hunting for bear earlier that day, and was supposed to be waiting along the road with a fire going.

Family members continued to use two vehicles to drive up and down the roads where he was supposed to be until 2:30 the next morning.

Lucas, however, had gotten lost. His GPS device failed and he didn’t realize he had been walking around in circles until it started getting dark.

Lucas, who lives in Lookingglass with his family and attends Camas Valley Charter School, had two cell phones with him. When the one with GPS malfunctioned he was able to get one bar on his other phone but was unable to reach 9-1-1, because he left his phone in airplane mode.

There was snow on the ground, but Lucas was able to get a fire started and build a shelter. He also fired his emergency pistol three times.

“It started hailing and it got really foggy and dark so I decided to make a fire and make a camp,” he said. “Everything was wet so I had to burn my hatchet case to get the fire going.”

For dinner, the 12-year-old roasted s’mores over the fire. Lucas said he had to put more wood on the fire about every 45 minutes to keep it going, but decided to get some sleep anyway.

“I cut down pine limbs to keep me dry and I was under a tree,” he said.

Sanne Godfrey / Contributed photo  

Lucas Saylor rests up at the campground after spending a night outside. Lucas was lost while bear hunting due to a faulty GPS and didn’t find his way back until morning.

More than 60 family members began searching that night. Meanwhile, family notified the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, local churches, and anyone willing to help look for Lucas.

Search and Rescue Coordinator Brian Melvin said the first night two deputies were deployed and two volunteers helped out to set up a containment area.

Lucas’ father Jason Saylor, who grew up in the area said, “I sent him on that hunt because he’s surrounded by four roads and I’d told him not to cross the road.”

Jason Saylor was hunting with Sydney, the Saylors’ 11-year-old daughter, at the same time Lucas was hunting by himself.

“I heard about it, but I went to bed and forgot all about it,” Sydney said. “When I woke up he was there and it just seemed like a normal day.”

Sydney was one of the few people who slept, something Erin Saylor attributed to a quite physical hunting trip earlier that day.

Lucas has been hunting since he was old enough to walk, so his dad wasn’t real concerned. The rest of their children, Sydney, Blaine, 15, and Crystal, 14, are all experienced in the outdoors too.

Sanne Godfrey / courtesy photo  

The Saylor family spent Memorial Day weekend at Toketee, where 12-year-old Lucas got lost while bear hunting. The family from left, Blaine Saylor, Erin Saylor, Lucas Saylor, Jason Saylor, Crystal Hardwick and Sydney Saylor.

But Erin Saylor thought maybe her son had gotten hurt.

“Mom and dad were very confident that he was going to be ok,” Melvin said.

Sheriff’s deputies helped look for Lucas the evening he went missing and at one point could smell smoke, but because of how dark it was around 1 a.m. decided not to go much further up and start searching again in the morning.

“They were near the trail head of where our subject walked in and they could smell smoke,” Melvin said. “They knew the kid was able to start a fire.”

Jason Saylor went back to the creek where he and the deputy smelled smoke the next morning.

Jason positioned himself in a way that sound would echo and fired off a shot, which woke Lucas.

Lucas had one bullet left and fired his pistol. He then climbed a tree to see if he could see anyone, but he couldn’t. He grabbed his elk call to make noise.

Jason Saylor had started walking toward the sound of the gun shot and father and son were reunited not long after.

“I felt like I was lost, but my plan was to walk up the mountain in the morning and find the road,” Lucas said. In hindsight it turns out he was less than half a mile from the road at the bottom of the mountain.

Nearly 150 people came to look for Lucas, including about 20 people dispatched from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department and Search and Rescue.

“As they were getting ready to deploy, Lucas came walking out, he self-rescued,” Melvin said. “That kid, he was so well prepared. There are people that we go look for in their 30s, 40s ‘wilderness experts’ who have hunted their whole life, who would not fare as well as this kid did. He did everything right, stayed calm knew exactly what to do.”

Melvin said he’d love to have Lucas join Search and Rescue, train with them and get certifications so that as soon as he turns 14 he can hit the ground running.

“He would be outstanding,” Melvin said. “He was dressed for the weather, he had all the supplies he needed to survive. Say he was lost in a larger wilderness area, he would have been fine another night. This is how well prepared this kid was.”

And while Lucas did a lot of things right, his dad said it was still a learning opportunity. Lucas has since celebrated his 13th birthday where he received several whistles he’ll be able to use if he gets lost again.

Lucas also built his camp close to a stream, which made it hard for him to hear the people yelling his name, and his campfire was just a smolder by morning, which meant helicopter crews were unable to see him from the air.

“Overall I couldn’t have been prouder,” Jason Saylor said. “He did exactly what I’ve been talking about with him all these years. You realize that you get a false sense of security with all the technology and you need to be able to fall back on basic survival skill.”

As for Lucas’ siblings, they’re tired of hearing the story and were quick to point out they didn’t get lost.