Oregon City police give out 21 tickets during sting
Oregon City police conducted a pedestrian-enforcement operation Wednesday morning in response to two serious crashes involving pedestrians in a recent six-week period at a local intersection.
This spring's first incident at Molalla Avenue and Pearl Street resulted in the death of 52-year-old Josafina Rojas-Bernandino and the second in the fractured hip of a 12-year-old boy; both incidents resulted in charges related to distracted or inattentive driving.
During the June 19 enforcement operation, OCPD Capt. Shaun Davis, wearing plain clothes and sporting an earpiece to communicate with two officers in unmarked police vehicles, walked for nearly two hours almost continuously in a square around the intersection.
With steady traffic through the area, the two cruisers waiting at the intersection were never in one place for long before they took off, sirens blaring, in response to seeing someone using their phone while driving, turning on red where prohibited or failing to yield to Davis as he played the role of the pedestrian.
Within two minutes of the enforcement action, a driver in a white Prius was cited for driving with a cell phone because Davis saw him texting. He told police he was "texting for work." He was not alone in admitting to phone use while driving.
The majority of the 14 motorists who were pulled over during the sting operation told police they had heard about the recent crashes at the location. Several drivers who were stopped for using their cell phone apologized and said knew the dangers of driving and operating a motor vehicle. Although the operation resulted in 14 drivers being stopped, Davis emphasized that the majority of people were seen driving through the intersection safely and attentively.
"Our whole goal is to change the driving behavior of people, and that can be through education or enforcement, or both," Davis said.
Several citizens stopped to tell police how much they appreciated the extra enforcement. About halfway through the operation, a woman pulled over to thank Davis for organizing the enforcement sting. Davis identified the woman as the mother of the 12-year-old boy struck by a driver using a cell phone on May 31.
Another driver cited for driving while using a cell phone told OCPD Officer John Fetzer that he was holding the phone "out of habit," even though the driver was on a Bluetooth system that allowed hands-free driving. Davis said, to some degree, police are having to battle a trend in communications that is increasing the pace of society and the amount of information thrown at people.
"We have so much technology that we can see so quickly," Davis said.
Once during the operation, a car ran a red light, prompting an immediate pursuit from the police. So swift was the response, that Davis, about a quarter of the way through the crosswalk, turned to a reporter on scene and said he had to stop to allow the officers to catch the person.
According to OCPD data, the operation gave out 21 tickets, nine for "operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile electronic device," three for "failure to stop or remain stopped for a pedestrian," three for "failure to obey a traffic control device," one warning and five other miscellaneous offenses.
Police stopped one man for driving while using a cell phone and found that 24-year-old Caleb J. Chapman-Griffin of Canyonville, Oregon, should not have been driving at all: His driver's license had been suspended due to a previous misdemeanor conviction. While being arrested, Chapman-Griffin was found in possession of methamphetamine and charged with possession of a controlled substance, along with a parole violation.
Davis had originally intended to conduct one hour of the operation at the Mollala and Pearl intersection, followed by an hour of enforcement two blocks down Molalla Avenue at Willamette Street, an intersection where there are no traffic lights and where police have been receiving complaints about drivers not stopping for pedestrians. However, after about four citations within the first half hour, Davis noted that they had decided to remain at the intersection due to its "activity this morning."
Davis, in a press release sent out Wednesday, noted that "when you use a cell-phone while operating a motor vehicle, you put everyone around you at risk, including yourself. No text or message is worth it, WAIT! We will be conducting more pedestrian safety operations throughout the year in various locations."
Raymond Rendleman, editor of the Clackamas Review/Oregon City News, contributed reporting to this story.