Driver charged in hit-and-run falsely linked to Hardesty
The Portland Police Bureau has identified a suspect in a routine hit-and-run crash that nearly became front-page news after Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty was falsely accused of being the scofflaw behind the wheel.
The Multnomah County District Attorney's Office filed two charges of failure to perform the duties of a driver causing property damage — a misdemeanor offense commonly known as hit-and-run — against 65-year-old Vancouver, Washington, resident Shirley K. Collins on Friday, March 12.
"Hardesty's office is reviewing the file and will respond to questions from the media next week," a spokesperson for Mayor Ted Wheeler said.
Copies of the police report, photo evidence and 911 calls released to the public showed the victim motorist, Evelynn Starr Ellis, never provided police with a license number but instead visually misidentified Hardesty as the culprit.
"She was behind me for three stoplights, I know it was her," Ellis, 46, told a 911 operator around 11 p.m. March 3, hours after the crash happened. "It's just so bizarre. I was somewhat kind of star struck, because at the first stop light I was looking at my rearview mirror and I'm like, 'Oh, that looks like Jo Ann Hardesty.'"
In later conversations with police, Ellis said she wasn't "100% sure" the suspect was Hardesty, per records.
Collins and Hardesty are Black; Ellis is white.
The incident stirred up a pot of controversy after the allegations were leaked early March 4 to reporters, leading to much news coverage before police eventually ruled Hardesty out as a suspect. Ellis already had been contacted by a KXL reporter by the time police first interviewed her.
Ellis noted she was in a severe crash that injured her neck four years before the rear-end collision on a one-way stretch of East Burnside Street near 146th Avenue. Ellis was driving a 2020 Volkswagen Jetta when she was hit by the driver of a four-door tan sedan.
A 23-page police report indicates Officer Ken Le initially found Ellis' report credible after checking Google Street View and finding a gold sedan parked outside Hardesty's home with one of her campaign bumper stickers on it when the photo was taken in 2019. Police also checked their "BOSS" system and discovered a license plate reader also had picked up evidence of the car parked near Hardesty's residence. Officers then visited Hardesty's home but no one answered the door.
A follow-up report by Officer David Enz found that TriMet cameras at a nearby MAX platform recorded the incident, which showed the suspect car was actually silver in color. The video clearly showed the silver car's license plate, which was linked via DMV records to Collins.
"While viewing her driver's license photograph I observed Collins bears a resemblance to Hardesty," according to the report.
DMV records also corroborated statements made by Hardesty on March 4 that explained she had donated the sedan to Voice of America in 2019.
Police contacted Collins at her home, prompting her to respond "How much is this gonna cost me?" and "Well it's my car, I'll take responsibility for it, but I wasn't driving," saying she had loaned it to a 20-something friend, the report says. Police believe the person shown in the video of the incident is Collins.
Collins has a number of traffic infractions and a few other incidents listed in court records, most recently for driving with a suspended or revoked license in 2019.
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