Top 5 Stories of 2018
A major court case, changes for a local taxing district, the closure of a longtime tribal enterprise and the opening of a new one, and a brand new headquarters for a worldwide business were among the top stories for Jefferson County in 2018.
Jail employees acquitted
Just three weeks ago, a judge found three Jefferson County Correctional Facility officers not guilty in the death of an inmate on April 26, 2017.
After nearly a year-long investigation — first by the Central Oregon Major Incident Team, and then by the Clackamas County District Attorney's Office — the results were presented in April to a Jefferson County grand jury, which returned with a charge of criminally negligent homicide against the three.
Cpl. Tony Hansen, who had been with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office since February 2015, deputy Michael Durkan, who had been hired in April 2015, and deputy Cory Skidgel, who had returned to work in February 2017, all pleaded not guilty to the charge on April 19. All three were placed on paid administrative leave "pending the completion of an internal investigation and/or prosecution," Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins noted at the time.
James Wippel, 59, of Portland, died more than two days after he was taken into custody in the parking lot of Indian Head Casino, in Warm Springs, where police had found him in a vehicle with a large, glass smoking device, and reviewed video showing him lighting and smoking from the device. The residue tested positive for methamphetamine.
At the Jefferson County jail, he told the arresting officer that he had heroin in his backpack, and corrections staff found three large black heroin rocks, a baggie of pill pouches and $4,408 in cash. Wippel was charged with unlawful possession and delivery of heroin.
Ultimately, the medical examiner determined that Wippel died of a chronic, perforated ulcer, "which blew out at the jail."
During the early morning hours before his death, Wippel, who was experiencing withdrawal from heroin, had vomited blood, and had other problems. Deputies had moved him to another cell to change his clothes, and to a third cell in order to observe him more closely.
Over the course of the seven-day trial before Circuit Court Judge Daina Vitolins, the courtroom heard testimony from witnesses, watched video, and listened to conflicting testimony from experts.
Experts for the Clackamas County District Attorney's Office, which prosecuted the case, said that it would have been "very reasonable" for staff to get Wippel medical care, and that when the deputies moved him that morning, he was "probably critically ill."
Defense experts found that the defendants didn't cause Wippel's death, and couldn't have been expected to know about such an unusual ailment.
Wippel died at 9:31 a.m., 45 minutes after jail officials decided to call 911, and 37 minutes after ambulance personnel arrived.
On Dec. 4, Vitolins expressed concern about the defendants' failure to take action earlier in the morning, but acquitted them of criminally negligent homicide.
The three went back to work in the jail on Dec. 10. Hansen was on leave for 16 months, and Durkan and Skidgel, for eight months.
"It has been very difficult dealing with three deputies facing criminal charges," said Sheriff Jim Adkins. "The psychological effect it had on my corrections division and entire office, was very stressful. I can't even begin to tell you how this scared all my deputies and a number of them questioned the career they chose and loved so much."
"But, on a positive note, I have used the tragedy to instill in my deputies how serious they all should take their jobs and how important it is to care for those we work for and watch in my jail," he said.
"I have worked very hard to restore morale and keep my deputies believing in the criminal justice system," said Adkins. "Going forward, my goal is to repair criminal justice relationships and become a better and stronger team for our citizens."
"I'm utilizing everything that I've learned during this tragedy, investigation and trial to make sure this never happens again," he added. "From the day after this tragedy, I have made sure to empower my deputies to take better care of the people we are charged with watching and caring for."
After years of growth and expanded programs for the Madras Aquatic Center Recreation District, on April 12, the board of directors abruptly placed the district's executive director, Joe McHaney, on paid administrative leave.
Two months later, on June 11, McHaney, who had directed the MAC district for four years, was terminated by a unanimous vote, after the board learned of financial irregularities.
The board had hired an accountant to review unusual financial transactions at the MAC, which had occurred from Jan. 1, 2017, through April 30, 2018. The firm found 90 transactions, for a total of $7,128.82, in which the district received cash payments and later voided the payments, sometimes issuing a "nonmonetary receipt."
For 82 of the transactions, McHaney was "the user who processed the void," the report found.
To avoid conflicts of interest, the Jefferson County District Attorney's Offiice turned the investigation over to the Oregon Department of Justice, which has not released any information on the status of the investigation.
Within a month of McHaney's termination, the board had hired Gary Barth to be the interim director and dissolved its agreement with the Kids Club. By Oct. 2, the district had hired a full-time director, Jim Weyermann, who has an extensive backround in both professional adult sports and youth sports.
Weyermann's experience in sports, which included stints with the Golden State Warriors and the San Francisco Giants, and as a capital fundraiser for 3Ball USA, is expected to be useful as the district works to ensure long-term sustainability for its programs.
Last week, Weyermann revealed that he is working with a potential donor on a major sports complex that would be located at Juniper Hills Park. The 125,232-square-foot facility would accommodate indoor soccer, basketball, volleyball, and badminton tournaments, and include a 21,158-square-foot outdoor ice-skating rink.
The project, which would cost around $35 million, would be funded by the donor, at no cost to taxpayers. The idea would be to have the project provide the "economic engine" for other local recreational activities.
The bad news this year for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs was the closure of iconic Kah-Nee-Ta Resort and Spa, which dated back to the mid-1960s and early 1970s.
On July 6, the tribes gave the resort's 146 employees the required 60-day notice that the resort was permanently closing on Sept. 5. The announcement inspired a protest by the tribes' Elder Council, which held a prayer service and protest march from Kah-Nee-Ta Lodge to Kah-Nee-Ta Village.
The tribes acquired the Kah-Nee-Ta property from a private party in 1961, and then planned and built Kah-Nee-Ta Village, with its large pool, which opened in May 1964. An estimated 3,500 people attended the opening ceremonies for the $750,000 development.
The tribes broke ground on the $5.1 million Kah-Nee-Ta Lodge on Jan. 11, 1971. The lodge, which was designed to complement its surroundings, was completed in late May 1972.
In a press release on the council's action, Chief Operating Officer Alyssa Macy noted, "After lengthy discussions and no action on presented options, Councilwoman Carina Miller made the motion to move forward with closure of the facility on Sept. 5."
"It is irresponsible to continue pouring money into an enterprise that has demonstrated over many years that it cannot generate enough revenue to cover expenses," said Miller, whose motion was supported by two other councilors — Val Switzler and Bridgett McConville — with similar concerns.
Five council members, including Chairman Eugene "Austin" Greene Jr., abstained.
The closure affected the Kah-Nee-Ta Lodge, Village and Golf Course, all of which remain shuttered. Residents of the hamlets were allowed to stay through Dec. 31.
Tribes open Plateau Travel Plaza
A major bit of good news for the tribes was the April 6 grand opening of the Plateau Travel Plaza, which is now a popular gassing up and stopping place for truckers and other travelers.
The $8.5 million project, managed by Kirby Nagelhout, features a 13,000-square-foot facility with full- and self-serve fueling stations for semitrucks and automobiles, a convenience store, restaurant and deli, with homestyle seating and takeout, gaming area with 30 Class II slot machines, restrooms and showers, and parking in the back for about 70 semitrucks.
The 24-hour business has refrigerated cases stocked with perishable items, such as milk and eggs, a self-serve beverage area set up to serve fountain drinks, specialty coffees and tea, and an entire section devoted to the needs of truckers.
For Christmas, the restaurant offered a brunch, a gift case with holiday gift ideas, and even a visit with Santa.
World headquarters for KEITH
KEITH Manufacturing Co. opened a brand new world headquarters for the growing company in early February, after decades of using modular units for office space.
The two-story, 12,454-square-foot building on Northwest Adler Street replaced six of the modular units, which had been spread out over the 62-acre site.
Founded by Keith Foster, who died in 2006, at age 83, the company introduced the first Walking Floor in the 1970s. The unloader is used around the world to move agricultural and mining products, solid waste, asphalt, scrap metal and bulk grocery products, among other things.
"The most popular use of our Walking Floor unloading system continues to be the waste and recycling industry," Mark Foster, company president and son of Keith Foster, noted earlier this year.
The company, owned by the Foster family, has offices in The Netherlands, Canada and Mexico, and sales staff and distributors in the United Kingdom, Spain, Australia, India, South America, Japan and South Korea, and employs more than 200 people in Madras, and another 45-plus people around the world.