DEA agent faces state felony charge in death of Salem cyclist

A veteran agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has been charged with criminally negligent homicide, accused of killing a Salem cyclist in March while he was on duty driving near downtown Salem.

The Marion County grand jury handed up the single-count indictment on Wednesday, Sept. 6, against Samuel T. Landis, 38. The charge became public when it was posted in Marion County Circuit records but was removed after Salem Reporter reported on the indictment. Court records before that did not show a date set to arraign Landis.

Marganne Allen, 53, was on her way home from work, cycling downhill on Southeast High Street just before rush hour on March 28 when she collided with a pickup truck at the intersection with Southeast Leslie Street. 

The case was investigated by the Keizer Police Department. 

Authorities have asserted for over five months that the death of Allen remained under investigation after police identified Landis as the driver.

Landis has been a DEA special agent since 2016, recently working in the federal agency’s Salem office on a joint task force with the Salem Police Department. He previously worked six years as a border patrol agent, according to the agent’s January court affidavit for a drug trafficking case.

Katherine Pfaff, a DEA spokeswoman in the agency’s Washington headquarters, declined to answer whether Landis was still assigned to the task force or if he was still employed by the DEA. 

“This is a tragic situation. DEA will continue to cooperate fully with the investigation,” Pfaff told Salem Reporter in an email. 

Under Oregon law, grand juries can indict a person when all the evidence “would, if unexplained or uncontradicted, warrant a conviction by the trial jury.”

Criminally negligent homicide is a class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson on Wednesday requested that a warrant be issued for the agent’s arrest and that he be held in jail on $20,000 bail. Such warrants are routine after an indictment. Her office issued no statement about the charge.

The Marion County Jail roster did not list Landis as being in custody Wednesday afternoon.

The agent’s felony charge comes after public records obtained by Salem Reporter showed the Salem Police Department coordinated closely with the DEA to manage public information beginning within hours of the fatal collision.

The Salem agency announced three days after the cyclist’s death that it was transferring its investigation of the collision to the Keizer Police Department because it was partners in a task force with the DEA. 

Grand jury proceedings were held on July 21, Aug. 24 and Aug. 31, according to the indictment. 

Grand jurors who meet privately heard from 18 witnesses, including Landis, three other DEA special agents and four Salem Police Department officers. Among those were two Salem officers assigned to the DEA task force, according to Salem police spokeswoman Angela Hedrick.

Allen worked for the state for around two decades, most recently as an executive with the state Department of Agriculture and previously in the state Department of Forestry.

She was riding home from her state job when she collided at the intersection of Southeast High and Leslie Streets with a pickup truck.

Salem police reported at the time that Landis drove into the intersection and crossed the cyclist’s path.

A Salem Reporter investigation found that the driver of the pickup truck sped down Leslie Street, drove past a stop sign without stopping and into the intersection at High Street where the crash occurred. The news organization established the sequence of events surrounding the fatal collision through video and interviews with witnesses.

Neighbors responded immediately at the time to tend to the injured cyclist. Meanwhile, the driver spoke on his phone and paced around the scene but did not approach the victim, witnesses told Salem Reporter.

Salem police have said none of its officers were on the scene at the time of the collision but confirmed that at least one arrived afterward. That Salem officer was one of two assigned to the federal agency’s Salem task force.

The Salem and Keizer police departments have previously declined to say how many Salem undercover officers responded to the collision scene or what their role was.

At some point, citizens at the scene noticed three to five men in plain clothes standing with the driver at the intersection. None identified themselves as officers.

The grand jury that later reviewed evidence of the collision heard testimony from Sgt. Vincent Dawson and officer Gene Zuniga, both with the Salem Police Department. Court affidavits show Dawson was assigned to the DEA task force as recently as January, and Zuniga as recently as May 2022.

Salem police spokeswoman Angela Hedrick would not answer a written question asking about their current assignments or those of the other two officers who testified, listed on the indictment as Mitchell Mason and Kevin McCarley. 

Mason retired from the Salem police on Aug. 31, the day of the final grand jury proceeding, according to records of the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, the state’s police licensing agency.

Grand jurors also heard witness testimony from three special agents of the DEA – Todd Hoagland, Adam Otte and Jeffrey Thomas. Their roles or what evidence they provided could not be established.

Authorities have not clarified what the DEA agents or Salem task force officers were doing at the scene of the collision.

Witnesses reported seeing people at the scene, including some uniformed officers, taking pictures of the truck.

Records established that an undercover Salem drug investigator texted photos of the collision to a DEA official 21 minutes after emergency crews arrived on the scene. Police have yet to explain why.

In a later internal email obtained by Salem Reporter, City Attorney Dan Atchison explained that the undercover officer sent the photos in his role as a contracted DEA agent.

But the Statesman Journal reported Wednesday that Salem police said steps had been taken to prevent any future sharing of photos outside the investigation.

Hedrick and Salem Police Chief Trevor Womack didn’t address written questions Wednesday about those steps, when they were taken or how the action was documented.

Records released by the city of Salem showed the police chief soon after the collision was discounting that anyone would be charged in the cyclist’s death.

Salem police issued their first press release about the collision a day later, identifying the driver by name but not by occupation. That prompted City Councilor Virginia Stapleton to write to Womack the next morning, after a citizen urged her in an email to look into whether the driver would be charged in the cyclist’s death.

“When I got the press release yesterday I had a feeling that there wouldn’t be charges, I’m hoping I’m wrong and would like to hear from you on this as soon as the investigation is complete,” Councilor Virginia Stapleton said in an email.

Womack responded that all charging decisions are made by the district attorney’s office.

“I will say though that serious charges, such as aggravated vehicular homicide, normally arise from accidents involving egregious driving behaviors/gross negligence, such as driving while intoxicated or very excessive speeds above the speed limit,” the chief wrote in an email. “A good number of fatal collisions occur without gross negligence being involved or proven by the facts. Fatal collision investigations and charging decisions can also take months to complete.”


BREAKING NEWS: DEA agent charged in cyclist’s death

Salem police gave video evidence to investigators three months after cyclist’s death

City kept in close touch with DEA following fatal cyclist collision, records show

Video shows driver ran stop sign in fatal collision with Salem cyclist

Salem police gave evidence to DEA minutes after agent’s fatal collision with cyclist

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.