City News, PUBLIC SAFETY

4 arrested in string of of violent carjackings in Salem

Sitting in her Hyundai Sonata at Southeast 20th and Ferry streets on Wednesday, Nov. 9, Sara Wolke hit send on an email at 8:53 p.m.

It was at that moment that both her driver’s and passenger’s side doors opened to reveal two men with guns. 

“They told me to get out of the car, and I wouldn’t get out of the car,” she told Salem Reporter. The man on the driver’s side “slapped” her across her chest with his gun and pulled her out of the car by her shirt.

He told Wolke to give him her phone, which was still in her hand. When she threw it over his head, he pressed his gun against her cheek. Then, Wolke said she heard someone yell that they “got the keys,” and the man hopped in the car. She jumped on the hood as the men struggled to start her car, but they eventually put it in drive, hurling her onto the street.

The episode was the first in a string of carjackings reported in Salem over a four-day period last week. One encounter with police resulted in gunfire and eventual arrests

Public statements issued by the Salem Police Department provided few details about the incidents. But police reports, court documents and Wolke’s account show the Salem police responded to at least three separate carjackings between Nov. 9 and 12. 

All of those arrested are under the age of 21, and the police agency has not said publicly whether an additional suspect who fled police had been arrested. 

Wolke said she suffered road rash on both of her knees, shoulders and elbows when the suspects plowed forward in her car and she fell off the hood.

She recalled getting up off the ground, picking up her phone and calling police. Her house keys were among the items left in her sedan.

“I was afraid they were going to come to my house,” she said. 

THE SPREE CONTINUES

It wasn’t until three days later that the Salem police found the suspects in Wolke’s sedan. 

In the meantime, two other women reported violent carjackings in Salem.

At 9:55 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 11, a woman called 911 to report her car had been stolen at gunpoint outside her apartment, according to a Salem police affidavit.

The woman told police she was parking her Chevrolet Malibu in her assigned space when she saw a man speaking with another man who she believed was her neighbor. She said the man was armed and struck her neighbor with his rifle, causing him to fall.

Suddenly, she said, another man wearing a bandana over his face ran up to her driver’s side window and struck it with a rifle, yelling “something to the effect of ‘Get the (expletive) out,’” the affidavit said. She grabbed her phone, put her hands up and exited her car.

When the men got into her car, she fled on foot. The neighbor “did not appear injured and did not report needing police,” according to the affidavit.

A Salem officer later that night stopped the car and found two people inside. Police identified Elijah Sierzega, 20, as the driver and a 14-year-old boy as the front passenger, and detained both. Salem Reporter generally does not name minors charged with crimes.

Police also found a loaded “AR-15 style rifle and a loaded, magazine fed shotgun” in the car, both loaded with a live round in the chamber.

The woman pointed out the suspects in a lineup. “(The victim) still appeared in fear when speaking of the incident,” a Salem officer wrote in the affidavit.

The teen was lodged at Marion County Juvenile Detention Center.

Sierzega was booked into Marion County Jail. Court records show he was charged Nov. 14 with first-degree robbery, unlawful use of a weapon and unauthorized use of a vehicle in Marion County Circuit Court. 

He is next scheduled to appear in court for a status check hearing on Dec. 1.

A CARJACKING, A CHASE AND GUNFIRE

At 6:26 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 12, Salem officer Lacey Runyon responded to another officer’s call at Les Schwab on Southeast Mission Street after a woman flagged him down and reported someone had tried to carjack her, according to a police report.

The woman told police that she was heading home when she received a phone call, pulled over and parked on Southeast Hines Street between Southeast 16th and 17th streets. As she was parked, she saw “out of her peripheral vision” someone approach the front passenger side of her car from behind, the report said.

She said the suspect pulled on her car door, while another suspect approached the driver door and tried to open it. The suspect also had a handgun pointed at her, and she told police she was afraid he would shoot her.

“(The victim) said she knew if she got out, it would be worse and she feared for her safety and what the suspects would do, if they had access to her,” Runyon wrote. “(She) told me she was angry as well, and felt the neighborhood was normally safe.”

The woman told police she always kept her car doors locked, and the suspects were unable to get in and pounded on her car doors. She said she put her car in gear and took off, driving “toward one of the suspects in order to facilitate her escaping,” the report said.

Afraid to go home, the woman drove around the neighborhood. She told police she lived close and didn’t want the suspects to know where she lived, adding that her family and children were there. She was heading east on Southeast Mission Street to return to work and report the incident when she saw Salem officer Zacharyah Fender.

Salem officers couldn’t find any houses on the surrounding streets with video surveillance cameras, according to the police report. But Fender had taken a similar report three days earlier of another vehicle, a Hyundai Sonata, that was “successfully stolen.”

Traffic cameras captured the sedan driving north on Northeast 19th Street at 6:30 p.m., about a six-minute drive from the scene.

Salem officers that night were on high alert. “Officers sighted the vehicle several times,” Runyon’s report said.

One officer located the sedan in the area of Southeast Mill and 12th streets and attempted to stop it, but the driver didn’t stop and fled. The officer “did not initially pursue,” according to another Salem police report.

Cpl. Joshua Buker relayed over his radio that he saw the sedan again near Northeast Center and 19th streets and was pursuing the vehicle. The driver ran a stop sign at Northeast 17th Street, eventually stopping at the intersection of Northeast B and 14th streets and the occupants fleeing on foot.

“Shortly after I heard Cpl Buker advise there were shots fired at them (police), and also shots away back at the suspects,” another officer wrote in his report.

The officer said he joined Buker and another officer in taking cover behind a tree and holding two suspects at gunpoint. Officers reported both suspects had their hands up and at that point were cooperative with commands. 

Police identified the suspects as Daron Shelton-Olsen and Vincent Nesbitt, both 19. They reported to police they were not injured, according to Runyon’s affidavit. She found pocket knives and a hand torch while patting down Shelton-Olson.

Police also reported finding a semi-automatic handgun laying on the ground.

“Daron made several excited utterances while I took him into custody and during transport. Daron asked me why officers had shot at him, which I did not acknowledge. Daron said it was crazy and he just saw shrapnel and debris coming at him,” Runyon wrote.

Shelton-Olson told the officer he was a passenger in the sedan when he saw a police car try to stop them and told the driver to stop, but they kept going. “Daron said he tried to get out of the car, but the doors were locked. I did not ask any questions or acknowledge Daron’s excited utterances,” Runyon reported.

Shelton-Olson and Nesbitt were charged Nov. 14 with unauthorized use of a vehicle, a class C felony, in Marion County Circuit Court. Both of their arraignments are scheduled for Nov. 28, court records show.

The Marion County District Attorney’s Office assigned the Oregon State Police to lead the investigation into the incident, as required under state law for shootings involving officers, Salem police wrote in its statement.

“Officers searched the area for the third person using a K9, however they were not located,” Salem police agency wrote in a statement on Nov. 12. The police agency did not identify the suspects arrested.

The area of 14th Street was the last place the third suspect was reported seen, according to a police report.

The Hyundai Sonata police found the night of Nov. 12 belonged to Sara Wolke, but it came back empty.

Her driver’s license, bank cards and social security card were gone. So were gift cards she’d bought her sons for getting good grades, as well as her son’s Jordan 1 shoes.

Wolke said she is studying for her contractor’s license and in the meantime is working for a handyman service. She told Salem Reporter her set of tools— including power drills, yard equipment and plumbing tools — were nowhere to be found in her car.

Upon reviewing surveillance video from her sister’s door of the Nov. 9 incident, she said she saw one person stay in a car as two others approached her sedan and tried to open the doors.

Wolke said she has lived in Salem for almost 20 years. “I’ve never had any problem at all,” she said. “I think this was a very well thought out and deliberately executed plan, and I think that it’s a group, a team of people doing it, not just a couple of teenagers out trying to joyride cars.”

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.