Will justice be done for Oak Grove crash victims?
Milwaukie police have gotten a lot of attention this year for cases in which pedestrians were hit by drivers who received no criminal charges, but in fairness, the same issue has cropped up in Oak Grove in areas patrolled by the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office and Oregon State Police.
CCSO and OSP, in two recent cases, declined to issue citations, let alone press for criminal charges. In one case, a driver hit someone in the bike lane while making a left turn, and in another case, a Rex Putnam High School student was witnessed going 60 mph in a 40 mph zone, but the suspects in the cases were determined to be sober without any drug tests.
The cases in Oak Grove have reminded public-safety critics of Milwaukie's three high-profile cases of women getting badly injured or killed in crosswalks lately.
Like Norma Gabriel and Kelsey Zionskowski in Milwaukie, Sue Pringle, 63, was using TriMet when her life was changed forever; Pringle was hit by a 16-year-old boy almost exactly a year ago. A FedEx van driver was also making a left turn in broad daylight when he fatally injured the 83-year-old Gabriel on April 26 in a Milwaukie Transit Center crosswalk; the driver paid $260 in fines. On Oct. 16, 2013, a Milwaukie police officer wasn't cited after he hit Gillian Hibbs, 70, while she biked across a marked crosswalk of the Springwater Trail near Johnson Creek Boulevard.
Oatfield Road case
On Aug. 1, 52-year-old Brian Dean Wright was driving his 2014 Mazda MZ5 south on Oatfield Road when he turned left across the lanes of traffic in an attempt to go up Oakland Avenue and hit James Dean Legosi, 43, who was riding his bicycle northbound on Oatfield.
CCSO Deputy Jodi Westerman concluded that Wright had the sun in his eyes and couldn't see Legosi as he entered the shady area across the street. It's unclear why CCSO didn't issue a citation to Wright for failing to yield the right-of-way to Legosi. Wright could have also have been found to have been recklessly driving for continuing to drive when he was blinded, but the CCSO report doesn't address potential criminal charges.
Instead the CCSO report commits what appears to be a logical error: "I did not issue a citation to Mr. Wright for Fail[ure] to Yield the right of way as the bike rider did have the right of way through the intersection," Westerman wrote in the report.
Legosi told police that Wright's car turned in front of him quickly and accelerated into him. After being struck by the car, Legosi fell to the pavement and hit his head, as demonstrated by his cracked helmet.
"He said the left side of his body hurts," Westerman wrote in the report.
Suspects in the McLoughlin Boulevard case on Sept. 26, 2016, were determined to be sober simply by the OSP officer's observation of the suspect's "speech, odor, etc." No citations were ever issued.
Sue Pringle, 63, was sitting in TriMet bus shelter when she was run over by the 16-year-old Rex Putnam student. He was reportedly speeding a black 2008 G37 Infiniti northbound on McLoughlin when he swerved to avoid a white 1999 sedan turning on to Vineyard Road. He hit Caroline Pearl Newton's sedan, sending her to the hospital with injuries, and shattering the bus shelter that contained Pringle.
A resident of Boardman Avenue, Pringle had just gone to lunch at Taco Bell when she was waiting for the bus to go grocery shopping at Fred Meyer. Then she would have taken the bus back home, but her back, pelvis and ankle were broken in the crash, so she was taken to OHSU with Newton.
Pringle's glasses were broken and many of her teeth were fractured when the crash forced her to do a face plant into the sidewalk. The Infiniti's tailpipe came to rest on Pringle's leg, causing third-degree burns.
Federal agency U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services sent Pringle a Sept. 1 letter saying that it would be taking all of the $100,000 settlement. She was forced to hire an attorney who eventually managed to win the case last week.
After paying for legal fees and Medicare's share of the settlement, Pringle said she only got $32,000, almost all of which will be going to her medical expenses not covered by federal insurers.
"Medicare covers some of it, but 20 percent of it is my responsibility," she said. "They don't cover any vision and they don't cover dental."
Pringle declined to name an exact number that she will get to keep, given the number of outstanding bills she is still adding up and paying. She was willing to say that even the full $100,000 paid by the various insurance companies involved wouldn't be fair compensation.
"The amount of money will never make up what I'm going through," Pringle said. "I died on the scene and I died on the operating table, but he [the Rex Putnam student] gets off scot-free."
Pringle has had to give up her gym membership because she doesn't have the money for it. The perpetrator has declined to be interviewed by this newspaper.
"When you're 16 or 17 you don't realize the impact of what you did, and he probably doesn't think about it," Pringle said. "I wish that I could talk with this kid for just five minutes and ask him, Do you realize what you did?"
Portland attorney Richard King, who represented Pringle in the case, said that the state's Crime Victim's Compensation Program only is available when district attorneys decide to prosecute.
"It's very frustrating where there was a clear crime that occurred and the district attorney declines to prosecute, which is maddening," King said. "It seems to me to be gross negligence and at the very least reckless driving on the part of the high school kid, and I have no idea how it came to no charges."
King acknowledged that it's up to the authorities as to whether they're going to charge someone with a crime or not. He also recognized that the case was complicated by the facts. The police themselves didn't witness the perpetrator speeding, and someone else turned in front of him. If the officers had caught him speeding, or if he had driven directly into the bus shelter, charges would have been more likely, King admitted.
Pringle has set up a fundraising page at gofundme.com/sues-accident.