Local News That Matters

UPDATES: State archives wants to hear from Oregon students

March 31, 2022 at 6:02pm

Man drove with blood-alcohol over three times legal limit during fatal crash at tent camp, affidavit says

Tire marks show the path of a car as it left Northeast Front Street and plowed through a homeless camp on Sunday. Four people died. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

A Salem man police say drove into a homeless camp along Front Street Sunday and killed four had a blood-alcohol level more than three times the legal limit the morning of the crash, according to a Salem police probable cause affidavit.

The crash killed four people living at the camp and injured two more.

Witnesses at Marion Square Park reported seeing Enrique Rodriguez Jr. driving his 2003 Nissan 300ZX with a California license plate at 60-70 miles per hour in a 35 zone, headed north on Northeast Front Street approaching Union Street, according to the affidavit.

He failed to follow a slight curve in the road, crossed the raised center median, left the road and crashed into the encampment.

Salem police identified those killed in the crash as Jowand Beck, 24, Luke Kagey, 21, Joe Posada III, 54, and Rochelle Zamacona, 29.

Two more people in the camp were hospitalized. Derrick Hart suffered broken ribs, a possible fractured back and an open fracture to his ankle. Savannah Miller suffered broken ribs and four life-threatening lacerations to her liver, the affidavit said.

The car "narrowly missed" five others, according to the affidavit.

Rodriguez was "visibly intoxicated" and had red, watery eyes, slurred speech, a flush sack face and a strong odor of alcohol. He admitted to having four drinks before the crash and told police "transients walked out in front of him," the affidavit said.

A blood draw showed Rodriguez's blood-alcohol level was 0.26, the affidavit said, over three times the legal limit of 0.08.

Rodriguez became upset at the hospital because he couldn't smoke a cigarette, pick up his vehicle or have his phone, despite officers already explaining his charges and that he was under arrest.

"He initially expressed concern for the victims but quickly shifted to anger over not getting to smoke have his phone or vehicle. He became so enraged I had to step out of the room due to his name calling," Salem police officer Gary Engler wrote in the affidavit. He yelled obscenities at the officer, and a nurse who heard him went into the room to tell him to stop cursing.

Police learned Rodriguez's driving privileges were suspended, and he had a warrant out of Lebanon Municipal Court for a probation violation related to him driving while suspended. He also had several citations for driving while suspended and driving uninsured, as well as a 2017 conviction for careless driving.

Just before 3 p.m. on March 26, 12 hours before the crash, a woman called to report Rodriguez's vehicle driving recklessly, sharing a picture of the car. She said its tires spun as it rounded the corner from westbound Salem Parkway onto Northbound Cherry Avenue, and it appeared to be racing with a white Subaru that was driving right behind in a similar fashion.

The woman said Rodriguez's vehicle got stopped behind traffic at Northeast Sam Orcutt Way and start spinning its tires while traffic was stopped, nearly losing control and hitting pedestrians who were walking on Northeast Cherry Street. She added that the cars were exceeding "freeway speeds," the affidavit said.

-Ardeshir Tabrizian

March 31, 2022 at 1:10pm

Legislative fix will give low-income students more scholarship money for community college

College grads at Chemeketa Community College in Salem in 2019. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

A scholarship to help Oregon high school seniors pay for community college that had unintentionally been sending the largest grants to students with the least need will now give more money to low-income students. That change and other fixes to the program are part of an education bill passed by legislators during the February session. The change will impact thousands of low-income students, who make up the bulk of the scholarship applicants. 

The Oregon Promise was established in 2016 to encourage recent high school graduates and those pursuing their GED – a high school equivalency diploma – to attend Oregon’s community colleges. The scholarship paid between $1,000 and $4,000 to students to cover tuition costs not covered by another program, like federal Pell grants or the Oregon Opportunity grant. Both help low-income students. Any student with a 2.5 grade point average qualified for the Oregon Promise. As a “last dollar” scholarship, the program was structured to cover tuition not paid for by other aid. 

Because many low-income students already receive Pell and other grants before the Oregon Promise kicks in, they had more of their tuition covered by aid and thus had received the minimum. Wealthier peers who hadn’t qualified for needs-based aid received more money

By 2021, despite nearly half of Oregon Promise grant recipients being low-income students, they were, on average, receiving about $350 less than their higher income peers each year. About 80% of the money in the Oregon Promise grant program went to students whose family income was too high for federal Pell grants and 40% went to students from families with a household income of more than $100,000, according to the state Higher Education Coordinating Commission. 

The commission had been trying to get the state Legislature to fix the program for several years, according to Juan Baez-Arevalo, director of the commission’s Office of Student Access and Completion

In 2019, the average cost of a year of community college tuition in Oregon was nearly $6,000.

Under the changes, the minimum award for the Oregon Promise will be doubled to $2,000 per year. The grade point average requirement has been lowered to 2.0, and students no longer need to pay a $50 copay each semester, saving them $150 per year. 

Students also will no longer need to complete a “First-Year Experience” requirement to remain eligible for the grant in their second year. First Year Experience was a program to develop study skills that community colleges needed to offer for Oregon Promise students. 

The scholarship will still be available after all other aid has been applied to a student’s tuition and, despite efforts by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to expand Oregon Promise to all of the state’s public universities, it is still only applicable to community college tuition.  

Oregon high school seniors and recent GED recipients interested in applying for the scholarship to attend a community college during the fall of 2022 will need to submit materials by June 1st to be considered.

-Alex Baumhardt, Oregon Capital Chronicle

March 31, 2022 at 11:05am

Oregon students can share pandemic experiences for state archives contest

Cassette tape recordings stores at the Oregon State Archives in Salem (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Oregon students could win a place in the state archives with an essay about their experiences during the pandemic.

The Oregon Blue Book, the annual state almanac published by the Oregon State Archives, is holding an essay contest for elementary and middle school students. The theme is “Oregon Students Share Their Pandemic Experience.” 

"As we meet the Archives Division’s mission to tell the whole story of Oregon, we believe these essays are an important opportunity for students to express themselves about their own experiences; their difficulties, perseverance and resilience," said Carla Axtman, managing editor of the Oregon Blue Book, in an email.

Students can submit written or video essays to the contest, which is open until October 20, 2022. Written essays must be 100-300 words and will include an illustration to go with the essay. Video essays must be two minutes or less. Contest rules and submission information can be found on the Secretary of State's website. 

“I’m looking forward to watching and reading thoughtful essays from Oregon students about this unique moment in Oregon’s history,” said Stephanie Clark, Oregon State Archivist, in a statement.

Written essay winners will have their submissions published in the print edition of the Blue Book, and video essay winners will be featured online in the digital version. Winners will be announced in January 2023.

-Rachel Alexander