A cop arrested and a landlord doesn’t pay: reporter Troy Brynelson’s top stories of 2019

Reporter Troy Brynelson (Fred Joe/Special to Salem Reporter)

I want to say thank you to anyone reading our lists of our five favorite stories.

One of the harder things about journalism is the ephemeral nature of the work. News hits faster and faster every year. Something that happened at 8 a.m. can be old news after lunch.

But the stories that you and I might actually re-read days, weeks, months later are the ones that tell deeply personal stories. Maybe they ask questions that are still relevant today.

Those stories take sacrifice. The facts are rarely sitting in plain view, unlike a typical public meeting. Writing them takes a lot more time. Meanwhile, 10 other events are waving for attention.

So while it’s not lost on me that readers want the most up-to-date news, they also take time to read these articles. These are the stories for which I received the most feedback, that people might actually remember.

So thanks for taking the time to check these out. These are my five favorite stories of the year.

Alexandria Tereshka in an undated photo provided by her family.

Rebellious and tormented, she was a ‘heartbreaking’ challenge for Oregon’s strained system

A short email alert from the Salem Police Department set this article in motion. A woman had lain down in the middle of the road. But why?

Answering that question, and the layers of questions behind it, took six months. Once we had a discernible answer of why this woman did this, a reporter like me has one last question to answer: why tell this story?

This article, we hope, doesn’t just tell Alexandria Tereshka’s story. It’s a story of the region’s social services, access to addiction treatment and mental health counselors. She wanted help, but our services fell short.

Tereshka’s story was tragic, but so are the lives of many who currently live in Marion and Polk counties. Her story won’t be the last of its kind.

Brenton Gicker, right, and Katie Haney arrive to an apartment building downtown where they will check on a woman who recently called 911. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)

‘You want a resolution as much as possible’: Six hours with Eugene’s mobile crisis intervention team

Homelessness and mental health are massive issues in Marion and Polk counties right now. Local governments are casting about for all sorts of answers: shelters, new city laws, public toilets, etc.

One idea pushed by local nonprofits hails from Eugene: CAHOOTS, or Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets. CAHOOTS has been around since the late 1980s but has recently found interest from cities across the country as homelessness grows as an issue.

For this article I spent six hours with two workers, Brenton Gicker and Katie Haney. Those two, and the CAHOOTS’ leaders, were so patient with me for this story and it really made a difference. It’s very difficult to find organizations that willingly open themselves to the media, but this article I think showed that access can make a huge difference in the final story.

Deputy Police Chief Steve Bellshaw, right, leads a tour of Salem Police Department headquarters. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)

‘Snowballing-out-of-control’: How the price rose by millions on Salem police headquarters

Municipal finance is no one’s favorite genre to read, but this was my effort.

After breaking ground on Salem Police Department’s new 104,000-square-foot headquarters, city officials continued asking for more money for the project. We wanted to explain why that was happening.

You won’t be shocked to find out that reporters don’t often come from finance backgrounds or the world of construction management. Diving into this question took several interviews where I asked professionals same questions over and over again. I stared for hours at construction budget documents until they made sense.

While the police headquarters continues to be a complex topic, this article tried to focus on one main point city officials stated when the project’s costs continued to go up: construction costs were going up too fast.

That is true, but our reporting also uncovered that the headquarters’ costs rose faster than usual. Estimators said to expect 5 to 7 percent cost increases annually. So why did Salem’s jump 20 percent in its first year? One short answer we found was that they were using outdated estimates.

The story also dives into Salem police’s efforts to wrangle those costs by cutting amenities. Still, they also kept some shiny toys in their budget.

Thayres, in red, volunteered as a cadet adviser while in Gulfport, Fla. Thayres was hired by Salem Police Department in 2014. (Courtesy of Seth Thayres)

For Salem police officer, stress proved too much and a career ends in handcuffs

It’s not every day a police officer gets arrested. Even then, it’s rarer still for the officer to be involved in a string of burglaries and selling stolen goods.

But Seth Thayres was arrested while on administrative leave from his job off patrolling Salem for the Salem Police Department. Quickly, Salem Reporter didn’t want to just learn more about the crime but what it meant for taxpayers and public safety.

Since this story ran, Thayres has landed several more criminal charges, pleading guilty to some. He has open felony cases in Multnomah, Clackamas and Lane counties. He has not admitted guilt for any drug use. He eventually went to Florida but was arrested and extradited to Oregon.

While he was still free, Thayres met me at a coffee shop in Portland to try and hear why he thought he landed in this situation. He talked about his long family struggles and battles with mental health, which we detailed in this report.

Vickie Rogers holds her dog, Ruby, on an early November morning. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)

Her landlord kept her deposit. She beat them in court — and still awaits her money.

I got into journalism to bring stories to the surface from the disenfranchised. Vickie Rogers’ story definitely fit that bill.

Rogers, a Salem woman with a cognitive disability, had for months battled a former landlord for her security deposit. The $211 deposit was a significant amount of money for her $771-a-month budget. By the time the story reached me, Rogers won a judgment in court months prior but the landlord never paid.

Very few stories I write get a chance to right a wrong so directly. When I called the landlord and detailed our reporting, the landlord said they would fix it right away. Since this story published, Rogers has received the check.