Rogue Valley News, Wednesday 1/26 – Joint Task Force Serves Search Warrant Outside Grants Pass in Child Porn Investigation, Single Arrest By Medford Police Clears More Than 70 Graffiti Cases

The latest news stories of interest in the Rogue Valley and around the state of Oregon from the digital home of Southern Oregon, Wynne Broadcasting’s RogueValleyMagazine.com

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Rogue Valley Weather

Air Stagnation Advisory until January 29, 04:00 AM PST

Today– Sunny, with a high near 57. Calm wind.

Thursday– Sunny, with a high near 58. Calm wind.

Friday– Mostly sunny, with a high near 56. Calm wind.

Saturday– Sunny, with a high near 56.

Sunday– A chance of rain. Snow level 3700 feet rising to 4400 feet in the afternoon. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 50.

The National Weather Service has issued an Air Stagnation Advisory for much of western Oregon and southwestern Washington. Poor air quality can cause issues for people with respiratory problems. State air quality agencies have asked people to postpone outdoor burning and limit woodstove fires until conditions improve.

Joint Task Force Serves Search Warrant Outside Grants Pass in Child Porn Investigation

The Southern Oregon Child Exploitation Team (SOCET) joint inter-agency task force alongside Josephine County Sheriff’s Office detectives, served a search warrant Tuesday morning at a residence in the 1000 block of Plumtree Lane on the outskirts of Grants Pass. Investigators discovered multiple images of child exploitation were uploaded from the residence. Investigators are interviewing possible witnesses and involved parties, and investigations are ongoing.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) tips started the investigation, which led to subpoenas, followed by the search warrant at the residence. During Tuesday’s search warrant, digital devices were seized, and will be forensically examined by the Southern Oregon High Tech Crimes Task Force for further evidence of child exploitation. 

SOCET is a joint inter-agency task force that started in June of 2020 to combat child exploitation and human trafficking. The task force consists of investigators from Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon State Police, Medford Police Department, Grants Pass Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Homeland Security Investigations; as well as prosecutors from our local, state and federal law enforcement partners in Jackson and Josephine County.

Single Arrest By Medford Police Clears More Than 70 Graffiti Cases

According to the Medford Police Department, they have arrested the city’s most prolific producer of graffiti.

The suspect, 24-year-old Shylo Ramirez is “no stranger to law enforcement,” was also arrested in August on criminal mischief for previous graffiti cases, MPD said.

Ramirez was also accused of being a felon in possession of a stolen handgun. He was allowed out on conditional release in this case pending trial.

“We know what many may be thinking ‘What is the big deal with graffiti cases?'” the agency posted on Facebook. “Well, when it starts showing up on every street corner, its a problem. Many have reached out to us after noticing graffiti all over town, and we have determined that one person, Shylo Ramirez, was responsible for approximately half of the cases.”

Ramirez was arrested on January 23, this time for his alleged involvement in about 70 different graffiti cases. He remains in custody more than a month later, held on $150,000 bail and charged with three counts of first-degree criminal mischief.

Probable cause statements filed by arresting officers in this and Ramirez’s prior case claimed that he was connected to tags with the words “lady dreamer,” “dreamer,” “drmr,” and “lyric” on buildings throughout the city.

“Graffiti is not only a hassle to the property owner, but it invites more crime into the area with the perception that ‘no one cares,'” MPD continued. “So please, if you’ve become a victim of graffiti, file a police report and get it removed as soon as possible.

“We all need to help keep our community clean and safe. The Medford Police Department will continue to aggressively investigate and arrest suspects for graffiti.”

Oregon reports 6,904 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 41 new deaths

PORTLAND, Ore. — There are 41 new COVID-19-related death in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 5,994, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reported at 12:01 a.m. today.

OHA reported 6,904 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 as of 12:01 a.m. today, bringing the state total to 597,172.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (16), Benton (217), Clackamas (505), Clatsop (21), Columbia (71), Coos (85), Crook (58), Curry (30), Deschutes (505), Douglas (238), Gilliam (7), Grant (1), Harney (16), Hood River (53), Jackson (520), Jefferson (173), Josephine (99), Klamath (130), Lake (29), Lane (362), Lincoln (71), Linn (286), Malheur (170), Marion (841), Morrow (52), Multnomah (750), Polk (193), Sherman (7), Tillamook (37), Umatilla (208), Union (36), Wallowa (18), Wasco (165), Washington (683), Wheeler (21) and Yamhill (230).

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is here and cases are surging throughout the county, region and state. What should a person do to help mitigate the spread of Covid-19? One of the most important things is to stay home if you feel sick.

Health officials from Klamath County Public Health say that if you suspect you have COVID-19, stay home for five days. Some people might experience fever longer than five days; they should be fever-free for 24 hours before leaving home.

Each day everyone makes decisions that affect their health. During this surge time, which is also flu season, drink plenty of water, eat nutrient-rich food, and use all of the tools available to promote your health. While Sky Lakes Medical Center is reporting fewer cases, officials say it could be several weeks until health care workers are less focused on cases for Omicron. 

The overall census is down today versus last week and last week was down versus a few weeks before that at Sky Lakes Medical Center according to public information officer Tom Hottman . He adds the hospital is here all the time, and are open to take care of patients and their medical needs.”

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ODOT Seeks Public Opinion on Use Of Federal Flexible Money

Oregon transportation officials want to hear from the public about how the state should spend more than $400 million in flexible funds from the federal government over the next five years.

The $400 million is part of the $1.2 billion that Oregon will receive for transportation from the federal infrastructure bill, which President Joe Biden signed on Nov. 15. Oregon will get more money for other programs, such as water and sewer lines and broadband connections, that does not go through the Oregon Department of Transportation.

In fact, $200 million of the $1.2 billion for transportation will go to TriMet and other public transit agencies. Much of the rest is earmarked for specific work by ODOT, such as bridge repairs and charging stations for electric vehicles.

The Oregon Transportation Commission will offer four scenarios for public comment through Feb. 17, when it plans a two-hour seminar. Chairman Robert Van Brocklin of Portland said the panel isn’t wedded to the numbers in any of them, but is likely to tailor its own plan after hearing from the public.

“It’s difficult to say there is one scenario I feel comfortable with,” commission member Julie Brown, who is the general manager of the Rogue Valley Transportation District, said at a Jan. 20 meeting. “We have to weigh all of these things.”

Even before the meeting, ODOT received public comments adding up to 300 pages on how to spend the federal money. The agency also interviewed 1,500 people in 2021 — it conducts these surveys every couple of years — about what they would like to see from the transportation system.

Though the money would flow into three general categories, as described below, the commission would have to approve specific projects as soon as this spring. It plans a decision on the broad allocations on March 30.

Alternatives

• Scenario 1: About $107 million would go into Fix-It, a list of maintenance projects for roads and bridges, and the rest evenly split between enhanced state highways and two other programs. For Safe Routes to School, ODOT has received $4 in requests for every $1 in available money. A new program of Great Streets would improve state highways that also function as main streets in communities.

The aims of Fix-It are to maintain 85% of the state’s 8,000 miles of highways at fair or better pavement condition and 78% of the 2,750 state highway bridges. Even with an infusion of new federal money, bridge conditions are projected to deteriorate because so many of them were built during the interstate highway era of the 1950s and 1960s and are past the 50-year mark.

• Scenario 2: About half would go into Safe Routes to School and Great Streets, as described above, and the rest evenly split between Fix-It projects and enhanced highways.

• Scenario 3: About half of the funds would go into enhanced highways — the current state money is scheduled to decline after 2024, seven years after the state’s 2017 law funded the latest round of projects — and the rest evenly divided between Fix-It and the school and street programs.

• Scenario 4: Each of the three categories would get an equal share of $214 million.

Plan for the rest

ODOT officials have proposed the rest of the flexible funds ($198 million) for these programs:

• $100 million for ODOT to carry out new access projects to comply with a 2017 settlement of a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

• $40 million to help offset a projected shortfall in agency operations and maintenance.

• $40 million to enable Oregon to compete with other states for a share of $100 billion that the U.S. Department of Transportation will award for other projects. Possible Oregon contenders are two projects on Interstate 5: Rose Quarter widening and partial capping and a new bridge over the Columbia River to connect Portland with Vancouver, Washington.

• $15 million to help communities with planning for climate change, including the transportation planning rule that seeks to reduce the need for travel between home, work and other activities. The rule dates back to 1991, but was updated in 2012.

• $3 million to boost business and the workforce required for construction projects.

“What you have learned is that there is a need for money all across the transportation system,” said Travis Brouwer, an assistant ODOT director.

In the 2021 survey, large majorities gave priority (90% or better) to six of 13 points, in descending order: Maintain roads and bridges, improve safety, reduce traffic congestion, protect the environment, seismic improvements, provide transportation for seniors and people with disabilities. For more information on how ODOT is planning to invest these federal infrastructure dollars, visit https://www.oregon.gov/odot/Pages/IIJA.aspx.

Oregon Has More Job Openings Than Workers To Fill Them

The pandemic forced closures and layoffs. Many filed for unemployment for the first time, trying to make ends meet while dealing all the other COVID-related challenges. Now, state economists say things are on the rebound in a big way. In fact, there are more job openings now than there are people to fill them. 

State economists say there are seven unemployed people for every ten job openings in our state and across the country.

“The economy right now is honestly in really good shape, mostly because households have income. They have money. They are trying to spend it,” explained Josh Lehner, an economist with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. “The biggest constraint in the economy right now is labor. It is harder to find workers today than it was two, three years ago.”

“Hiring has really been at full steam, particularly since summer when Oregon employers reported a record number of 107,000 job openings – just in the summer,” said Gail Krumenauer, an economist with the Oregon Employment Department. 

She explained 2021 ended with more than 100,000 job openings in the state. Prior to the pandemic recession, the largest number of job openings they’d even seen was about 67,000 in summer 2017. 

“What that means if you’re a job seeker is likely, if you’re looking for a job, you could get multiple job offers and have the opportunity to take the one that has the best combination of wages, benefits, perks and flexibility for you.”

With the current unemployment rate at 4.1%, things look great for people looking for a position, but more difficult for the businesses trying to find workers. The demand has driven up wages across the board, according to Lehner’s latest Economic Analysis report.

“One of the tools they have been using readily is raising wages to attract workers. The average wage in Oregon since the start of the pandemic is up 17%. On a full-time basis, that is equivalent to around $7,000 or $8,000 a year for the average Oregon worker – which is just a really big increase.”

Krumenauer said each industry has different difficulties in finding, and retaining, workers right now. 

“For some of them, it’s just a lack of applicants. Employers are saying that they have had two few or no applicants for their jobs. In other industries, when we talk about healthcare – it’s a good example – they are more likely to require some sort of education beyond high school.”

For the rest of 2022, Lehner predicted a steady statewide wage increase, though a bit slower than what we saw during the pandemic.

“We do think that labor supply, the number of people actively looking for a job, will increase this year and next.”

Some of the industries with the most openings include leisure and hospitality, healthcare, and construction, as well as warehousing and transportation. 

Oregon Resumes Rental Assistance Program

Oregon Housing and Community Services is once again accepting applications for their emergency rental assistance program, aimed at helping tenants facing eviction for nonpayment of rent.

OHCS says it will be a “limited reopening” expected to run 3 to 5 weeks, with roughly enough funding to provide assistance to 6,700-9,300 additional applications.

As of 8 a.m. January 26, the portal to submit an application on the state of Oregon’s website is down though it is scheduled to be open.

For the last six weeks, OHCS has been on pause while they go through a backlog of applications to see if any money from the nearly $400 million in federal assistance and special session allocation was left to give out.

OHCS is first processing applications received before the Dec. 1 pause.

Households with the most need will have priority in accessing these resources, not a first-come, first-served basis.

Then, applications received on Jan. 26 will be processed after that, using the same means of identifying need to determine the order of processing.

Tenants who apply on Jan. 26 or after may receive safe harbor protections that prevent landlords from evicting tenants until their application is processed.

All safe harbor protections expire on Sept. 30, 2022.

The state provided the following information for renters who apply on or after Jan. 26 when the portal reopens

  • Tenants who apply on Jan. 26 or after can receive safe harbor eviction protections that prevent landlords from evicting tenants until their application is processed. Tenants must show proof to their landlord that they applied for the program to receive the protections. Tenant applications will be paid based on the remaining funding available and are not guaranteed.
  • Applications still awaiting landlord/tenant response at the time of closure are subject to funds remaining when application is finalized and approved, and prioritization scoring is applied and are not guaranteed for payment.
  • Tenants at immediate risk of eviction should apply for rental assistance right away to access safe harbor protections and should contact a legal organization.
  • Oregon Law Center’s Eviction Defense Project: 888-585-9638 or evictiondefense@oregonlawcenter.org
  • Oregon State Bar: 503-684-3763 or legalhelp@oregonstatebar.org
  • Tenants should expect a delay prior to processing and payment but can count on accessing their safe harbor eviction protections immediately.

OHCS and local program administrators (LPAs) have paid $235.4 million in federal emergency rental assistance to 33,770 households, up from $222.4 million and 31,816 applicants last week, through OERAP.

Oregon Lawmakers Introduce Bill To Make Self-Service Option At Gas Stations

A bipartisan group of Oregon lawmakers has introduced a bill that would make self-service just as permissible at gas pumps in the state as service from an attendant.

Supporters of the bill say that it would ensure access for people with disabilities and those who prefer service from an attendant “without any loss of existing jobs.”

These days Oregon is one of just two states that broadly require gas be pumped by attendants, though the state made exceptions through a bill passed in 2015 for rural areas and along the coast at night.

The bill is being promoted by a group called Oregonians for Choice at the Pump. The Oregon Fuels Association, a political action committee consisting of locally-owned gas stations and fuel distributors, supports the group. According to the group, gas station owners report that the change is “desperately needed” due to ongoing labor shortages.

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Klamath County Sheriff’s Office Asks for Public’s Help in Search For Trucker Suspect

The first real clue to come in on all the missing person cases in the area. Help Klamath Falls Oregon Sheriff Office ID this trucker. He was the last to see this woman alive and could be the key to not only solving this woman’s disappearance but a number of the hundred other women missing in PNW. IF you have any information, please call (541) 883-5130

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A 17-year-old was reported missing in Salem and detectives say the teen might be the victim of an online catfishing scheme.

Ezra Mayhugh, 17, was last seen on October 15, 2021 after being dropped off in downtown Salem by a friend, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said. He was reported as a runaway the following day when he did not return home.

Investigators say he might be in Washington or California. They hope to reunite Ezra safely with family members.

He’s described as about 5-foot 11-inches tall, weighing 130 pounds, with blonde hair and brown eyes.

If you have had contact with Mayhugh since October 15 or have other helpful information on his whereabouts, the sheriff’s office asks you to contact Detective M.J. Sphoon at 503-588-6808 or to submit a tip by texting TIPMCSO and your tip to 847411.

https://www.facebook.com/pg/Have-You-Seen-Me-Southern-Oregons-Missing-People-161249961222839/posts/

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