Zachary Ryan Wilhite, 23, accused of sexually abusing neighbor girl

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - WilhiteA St. Helens man was arraigned Wednesday in Columbia County Circuit Court on felony charges related to his alleged sexual abuse of a 14-year-old neighbor girl.

St. Helens police on Monday arrested Zachary Ryan Wilhite, 23, who has since been charged with 16 total counts in his connection with the case, including four counts of third-degree rape, six counts of third-degree sodomy and six charges of third-degree sexual abuse.

Wilhite was offered a conditional release pending sentencing. He is expected to move into his mother’s Hillsboro home while awaiting further court appearances.

John Berg, a deputy district attorney in Columbia County, said Wilhite’s rape and sodomy charges are class C felonies and carry with them a maximum of up to five years in prison each and $125,000 in fines each.

St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss said Wilhite’s alleged crimes all had to do with the age of his victim who, according to Berg, lived below Wilhite in an apartment and would frequently visit him.

“It came in as complaint through her family,” Moss said of the arrest. “Officers investigated last night [Monday, Dec. 9], he was arrested and now sits in the Columbia County Jail.”

“They were neighbors,” Moss continued. “This was not, or did not, pose a risk to the community at large. He certainly was a risk to the victim.”

Moss said the victim’s family reported Wilhite to the police.

A person commits the crime of rape in the third degree if the person has sexual intercourse with another person under 16 years of age, according to Oregon law.

“Everything had to do with the age of the victim,” Moss said.

Wilhite is a 2010 graduate of St. Helens High School, according to his Facebook profile. He also worked as a dispatcher and driver with Columbia County Rider, the county’s public transit system.

Janet Wright, transit director with CC Rider, said the transit system contracts its drivers out from First Transit Bus Solutions, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, with a satellite location in Vancouver, Wash.

“It is required by our contractor to complete background checks for every position,” Wright said, “He’s not a county employee.”

Wright said she was unaware of a citation Wilhite was issued in February 2012 for failure to obey a traffic control device. Wilhite had to attend traffic school for that infraction, which he completed in April 2012.

Stephanie Creech, spokeswoman for First Transit, said the company does background checks for drivers, but was unable to discuss them in detail.

“Well, obviously we do background checks for everyone we hire. I can’t speak specifically to them,” she said. “Mr. Wilhite has been removed from service pending the outcome of the investigation.”

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