A tree in a landscaped strip on Northeast Front Street bears the scar from where a car crashed through a homeless camp on Sunday, March 27, 2022. Four people died. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
9 a.m. Sunday – Interim city manager issues statement.
9 a.m. Sunday – Streets around the scene have been opened, police said.
9:45 a.m. Sunday – Mayor Chuck Bennett issues a statement; details on emergency responses provided.
4 p.m. Sunday – Alcohol suspected as factor in fatal crash
6 p.m. Sunday – Police arrest Enrique Rodriguez, Jr., 24, on charges including four counts of first-degree manslaughter.
Four people in a downtown roadside encampment were killed early Sunday and two more were injured when a sports coupe struck the camp, the Salem Police Department said in a statement.
The statement said the casualties were in a homeless encampment in the area of Front and Division Streets, near the Union Gospel Mission and about one block west of the police department. A police spokesman later said the camp was in a landscaped area adjacent to the railroad tracks on Front Street.
The crash happened about 2 a.m. Sunday. Two campers died at the scene and two died later at Salem Hospital. Two others were taken to the hospital with what the statement said were “life-threatening injuries” but their conditions weren’t immediately available.
Witnesses told Salem Reporter that the vehicle was northbound on the Front Street bypass when it left the road into the encampment, hit trees, and then stopped with victims pinned beneath the car.
Police said the driver also was injured and taken to the hospital. The agency said in a press release Sunday afternoon that investigators “believe alcohol may have been a contributing factor.”
Police arrested the driver, 24-year-old Enrique Rodriguez, Jr., on four counts of first-degree manslaughter, second-degree assault, third-degree assault and six counts of reckless endangerment. He was lodged at the Marion County Jail, according to an updated news release Sunday night.
No names were being released while police were attempting to locate and notify relatives. The conditions of those hospitalized wasn’t immediately available.
According to Greg Walsh, public information officer for the Salem Fire Department, five medic units, four engines, a ladder truck and a battalion chief responded to the scene. The dispatch times show the extent of the disaster was quickly evident to authorities.
According to Walsh’s accounting, Engine 1 and Medic 16 were dispatched at 2:05 a.m, Medic 12 at 2:09 a.m., a battalion chief, Engines 2 and 5 and Ladder 2 at 2:10 a.m., Medics 9 and 10 at 2:12 a.m., Engine 4 at 2:14 a.m., and Medic 11 at 2:33 a.m.
Police closed Front Street between Union and D Streets and Division Street between Union and Commercial for several hours, opening the streets about seven hours after the accident.
The property is owned by the Oregon Department of Transportation.
Tire marks show the path of a car as it left Northeast Front Street and plowed through a homeless camp on Sunday, March 27, 2022. Four people died. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
A resident of the homeless camp along Northeast Front Street gathers belongings on Sunday, March 27, 2022, after a car plowed through the camp early in the morning. Four people died. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
“On behalf of the city and myself, my condolences go out to the friends and family of those affected by this terrible tragedy,” Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett said in a written statement. “We continue to offer alternatives to unmanaged camping and encourage people to access those resources.”
Kristin Retherford, Salem interim city manager, said in a statement Sunday morning, “We are deeply saddened at the tragic deaths of four members of our community early this morning when a vehicle struck an encampment along Front Street.
“Our prayers are with those individuals, those who survived the accident but are currently hospitalized, those who weren’t injured but experienced the trauma of this horrible event, and the families and friends of those who died today. We grieve with them and support them in their grief. We are coordinating with nonprofits and with city case managers to provide assistance to survivors,” the statement continued.
The accident comes about three weeks after Salem authorities cleared another encampment out of Marion Square Park. City officials acknowledged in a statement then the limited opportunities for those campers to find new shelter.
“Available shelter and housing may not meet the individual’s needs, and depending upon the circumstances, there is often not available emergency shelter or housing,” the statement said.
That camp was cleared “in response to public health concerns” with “a focus on the areas near the park, like sidewalks and areas under bridges,” according to a statement from Kathy Ursprung, a city spokeswoman. She said the city continued “to work in conjunction” with the state Transportation Department regarding camping on state property.
April Pfeifer, who said the car came close to her tent, said she had staying at Marion Square Park prior to the eviction. Arches employees were at the scene Sunday, talking to people and were going to provide more tents for the people still staying onsite.
“Our concerns continue for the health and safety of people living in public spaces throughout the city – and their neighbors,” according Ursprung. “Street outreach partners, Salem Housing Authority navigators, non-profits, and community-based organizations regularly encourage people to access the available, but limited resources.”
Amanda Loman of Salem Reporter contributed to this report.
Contact Editor Les Zaitz by email: [email protected].
JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!