Rogue Valley News, Friday 1/20 – Hanby Middle School Celebrates Renovation, Police Seek Tips in Ashland Fuel Theft That Caused Fire

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

Friday, January 20, 2023 

Rogue Valley Weather

Hanby Middle School Celebrates Renovation

“Hanby Middle School is delighted to announce the grand re-opening of our historic 1910 building!” Central Point School District 6 is celebrating the newly renovated Hanby Middle School. After two years of construction, the 112-year-old building is equipped with new classrooms, lockers, safety systems, and more features.

To celebrate the new renovation, Hanby Middle School hosted an open house on Wednesday. 

The $11 million project was made possible thanks to a 2019 district bond, federal and state grants and pandemic relief funding.

“It also combined some state and federal funding to really take it to the next level by adding some classrooms and making the third floor usable again,” said Walt Davenport, Superintendent of Central Point School District 6. “We really invested in the community and the history of the community through the renovation of Hanby Middle School.”

Generations of students have walked through the halls of Hanby Middle School and preserving the building’s old charm was important to the school district. Davenport says the district worked with the Southern Oregon Historical Society to ensure the school’s history was protected.

Students and staff were welcomed into the new building at the start of the year and Davenport says everyone is excited to see and use all the new updates.

“They are thrilled to be in this new space,” he said. “I think that they appreciate that we maintained some of the historic pieces in that building. It’s light and bright, it’s got flexible learning spaces. It’s just a wonderful place to be and the feedback right now has been very, very positive.”

Davenport says the renovation is a great example of how much the school district has grown since the start of the pandemic. 

“I think it’s a chance to celebrate the perseverance of the community,” he said. “I’m really excited and I think that it will honor the legacy that the community has and then show the potential for growth.”

Police Seek Tips in Ashland Fuel Theft that Caused Fire

On Saturday, January 14, 2023 at approximately 2:40 a.m. officers from the Ashland Police Department and members of Ashland Fire & Rescue responded to 60 Shamrock Lane for a report of a fire. This location is a fueling station that serves commercial vehicles.

After the fire was extinguished, APD, in consultation with AFR, determined that the fire was caused by someone’s attempts to steal gasoline from underground gasoline tanks via syphoning the gas. The investigation determined that hundreds of gallons of gas were stolen before the theft was cut off by the fire it caused. Some fuel was also stolen from a nearby piece of construction equipment that was left in the area.

This theft and the fire it caused presented an immediate and serious threat to the surrounding neighborhoods and the Ashland community. As the attached pictures show, had this fire been at a different time of year, it would have easily caused a major threat to adjacent residences and businesses.

The second attached picture shows the falling embers spreading in the area as a result of the fire.

The Ashland Police is asking for the public’s help in identifying the vehicle that was seen entering the area while pulling the trailer that would eventually be destroyed by the fire. If anyone has any information about who might be responsible, please contact the Ashland Police Department: (541) 488-2211

Jackson County Man Gets Life-In-Prison Sentence For The Death Of His Wife

A Jackson County Circuit Court jury convicted 56-year-old Kevin Dean Hicks Sr. last Thursday of second degree murder for the death of his wife in 2018.

The court sentenced him Wednesday for criminal charges of Murder in the Second Degree, Arson and Abuse of a Corpse.  Judge Timothy Barnack sentenced Hicks to life in prison with the possibility of parole after twenty-five years for his murder conviction. 

Barnack sentenced Hicks to thirty-six months in the Oregon Department of Corrections to be served consecutively for the arson conviction, and the corpse abuse conviction received a sentence of 20 days in the Jackson County jail.  The Jackson County District Attorney’s Office (JCDA) says additionally, Hicks is subject to lifetime post-prison supervision if he is ever released.

JCDA says, “Hicks was convicted for his role in the murder of his estranged wife, Tammy Hicks. The two had been living apart due to a prior domestic violence incident in October of 2017 wherein Mr. Hicks was convicted of Felony Assault in the Fourth Degree against Ms. Hicks. On June 30, 2018, Ms. Hicks went to discuss an ongoing tax issue with the defendant. While at their RV (located at 3150 McMartin Lane in Central Point) the Defendant strangled her to death and then lit the RV on fire, abusing her corpse in the process. The fire quickly spread to adjacent trailers, sheds, and land before being knocked down and put out by local fire personnel.”

JCDA says two of the victim’s surviving children and her adult brother spoke at sentencing and both children discussed how the murder of their mother has impacted them on a daily basis, noting, “The children told the Court that Tammy was a devoted mother who went out of her way to show the kids she loved them on a daily basis. ‘She gave the best hugs in the world…She would have done anything for us. She lost her life to free us from (Defendant’s) grasp.’”

Following the request of the family and prosecutors, Judge Barnack ran Hicks’ sentences consecutively.  The victims requested that media not release their names for the purpose of maintaining privacy.

Hicks was indicted by a Jackson County Grand Jury on July 5, 2018. He has remained lodged in the Jackson County jail since June 30, 2018.

The case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorneys Zori Cook and Ben Lull.

RSV Cases On The Rise In Southern Oregon

RSV is on the rise in southern Oregon. Jackson County Public Health says it’s seeing higher numbers locally compared to the rest of the state.

Public Health Officer Dr. Leona O’Keefe says at the state level, RSV surged in November but southern Oregon is seeing that surge now.

According to the OHA, at the start of the month, the test positivity rate for the state was around 11%. Southern Oregon’s test positivity rate is almost 17%.

“Now most of the state is really decreasing in RSV except southern Oregon, in the last two weeks we’ve had a big rise in RSV, we may be plateauing so RSV may be dropping off over the next few weeks,” said Dr. O’Keefe.

There is good news, Dr. O’Keefe says that flu cases in the county have been decreasing.

Oregon’s Nonfarm Payroll Employment Rises by 6,100 in December

In Oregon, nonfarm payroll employment rose by 6,100 jobs in December, following a gain of 8,200 jobs in November. The gains in December were largest in manufacturing (+2,400 jobs), construction (+1,300), and professional and business services (+1,100). The largest decline in December was in other services, which cut 500 jobs.

Oregon’s private sector added 5,600 jobs in December, reaching another all-time high of 1,694,200. This was 22,500 jobs, or 1.3%, above the pre-recession peak in February 2020.

Construction continued its rapid expansion in December. The industry added 10,200 jobs in 2022, for an annual growth rate of 9.1%. Gains were widespread throughout the industry, with all published components growing between 5.9% and 14.9% over that 12-month period. Building equipment contractors (+3,700 jobs, or 11.5%) and building finishing contractors (+2,200 jobs, or 14.9%) grew at the fastest rate.

Leisure and hospitality is still substantially below its pre-pandemic peak. But its revised gain of 1,500 jobs in November, coupled with its gain of 600 in December, kept the industry on its recent upward trajectory. Over the past 12 months it added 16,900 jobs, accounting for a quarter of Oregon’s private- sector job gains during that time.

Oregon’s unemployment rate rose to 4.5% in December, from 4.3%, as revised, in November. The unemployment rate increased 1.0 percentage point over the past five months from its recent low of 3.5% in May, June, and July. The last time Oregon’s unemployment rate was 4.5% or more was in September 2021, when it was 4.5%. In contrast, the U.S. unemployment rate remained below 4% during the last three months of 2022, and it edged down from 3.6% in November to 3.5% in December.

Putting Oregon’s 4.5% December unemployment rate in a broader context: It has been relatively rare, historically, for Oregon’s unemployment rate to be below 4.5%. This occurred during the 14 months prior to December, when the rate averaged 3.9%. Also, from 2017 through 2019 the rate averaged 3.9%. But prior to late 2016, Oregon’s rate never dropped below 4.5% in any month dating back 40 years — from 1976, when comparable records began, to October 2016.

Murdock Trust announces grants to Oregon nonprofits

Today, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust published its Fall 2022 Grants Report. The report announces:

  • 82 total grants to Pacific Northwest nonprofits totaling $28.6 million.
  • This includes more than $9.3 million through 33 grants to nonprofits serving the Oregon community.
  • The report can be found here. A full list of grantees can be found here.

The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust is a private, nonprofit foundation that has invested more than $1.3 billion in nonprofits serving the Pacific Northwest since 1975. For details, please visit our website murdocktrust.org.

FBI Portland Division Offering $25,000 Reward for Information in Several Arson Investigations

PORTLAND, OREGON – FBI Portland is seeking the public’s help to identify the individual(s) responsible for arsons at three separate reproductive health centers.  

As part of a national effort to bring awareness to a series of attacks and threats targeting reproductive health service facilities across the country, the FBI is offering a reward of up to $25,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of the suspect(s) responsible for these crimes.

Between 4:00 p.m. on July 4, 2022, and 8:00 a.m. on July 6, 2022, an arson attack and vandalism took place at the front entrance of the Mother and Child Education Center located at 1515 NE 41st Ave, Portland, Oregon. The words, “IF ABORTION AINT SAFE NEITHER RU JR” and “JANES RVVGG” were spray painted on the front of the property.

At approximately 2:30 a.m., on June 10, 2022, Gresham Police responded to an alarm at the Gresham Pregnancy Resource Center located at 104 NW 11th Street. Once on scene, law enforcement personnel found a fire inside the building. Investigators believe several Molotov cocktails were thrown through a kitchen window in order to ignite the fire. Investigators found several large bottles in the kitchen with fire accelerant confirmed on the floor. 

At approximately 10:38 p.m., on Sunday, May 8, 2022, the Keizer Police Department received 911 calls reporting someone throwing multiple Molotov cocktails at the Oregon Right to Life building located at 4335 River Road North. From nearby security footage, investigators determined the suspect retrieved an item from the trunk of their vehicle and walked towards the building. A glow could be seen on the security footage that was determined to be flames from the Molotov cocktail thrown at the building. Shortly after, the individual was observed running back to the vehicle. Investigators believe the suspect may have been driving a white sedan, possibly a 2017-2018 Hyundai Elantra.

“The FBI, and our partners, will aggressively pursue those who threaten to use, or do in fact use, violence to intimidate or influence – or to retaliate against an outcome that differs from their preferred position,” said Kieran L. Ramsey, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Portland Field Office. “Vandalism, arson, and threats of violence such as these should not, and cannot, be acceptable in our shared community. We are, therefore, asking the public to take a look at these photos and videos and if you recognize anything that could be helpful to our investigation, please reach out.”

These criminal acts are a violation of Title 18 U.S.C. § 844(i), Destruction by Means of a Fire or Explosive, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in federal prison, and potentially, a violation of Title 18 U.S.C. § 248(a)(3), Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances.

Anyone with information is asked to call 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324), contact their local FBI office, or submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov. You may remain anonymous. 

You can view seeking information posters for other arsons and potential FACE Act violations here.

https://www.fbi.gov/news/press-releases/fbi-offering-25000-rewards-for-information-in-series-of-attacks-against-reproductive-health-service-facilities

https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/portland/news/fbi-portland-division-offering-25000-reward-for-information-in-several-arson-investigations

Arizona Woman Caught Trafficking Fentanyl and Heroin on Interstate 5 Charged in Federal Court

PORTLAND, Ore.—An Arizona woman is facing federal charges after she was caught trafficking approximately 45,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills containing fentanyl and several additional pounds of bulk heroin on Interstate 5 near Salem, Oregon.

Nancy Garcia, 47, of Yuma County, Arizona, has been charged by criminal complaint with possessing with intent to distribute fentanyl and heroin.

According to court documents, on January 16, 2023, an Oregon State Police (OSP) trooper initiated a traffic stop on a vehicle being driven by Garcia northbound on Interstate 5 near Salem. The trooper identified Garcia as the sole occupant of the vehicle and observed that she was traveling with a statue of Santa Muerte, a saint-like figure some individuals believe offers protection in drug trafficking.

Garcia first told the trooper she was traveling to Seattle, but later said she was traveling to and planning to spend a week in Portland. The trooper lawfully searched Garcia’s vehicle and found more than 10 pounds of counterfeit oxycodone pills containing fentanyl and five and half pounds of bulk heroin in a bag on the floor behind the driver’s seat. The trooper placed Garcia under arrest and transported the drugs to a law enforcement lab for further evaluation.

On January 18, 2023, Garcia made her first appearance in federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Youlee Yim You. She was ordered detained pending further court proceedings.

This case is being investigated jointly by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and OSP. It is being prosecuted by Paul T. Maloney, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.

A criminal complaint is only an accusation of a crime, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Third Dead Whale In A Week Washes Up On Oregon Coast

A baby gray whale washed up on the northern Oregon coast on Wednesday, making it the third dead whale to beach on the state’s coastline over the past week.

The 12-foot-long calf washed ashore at Fort Stevens State Park, only 100 yards (91 meters) from the site where a dead sperm whale beached over the weekend.

The baby whale appeared to be a stillborn, Michael Milstein, spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries agency, told news outlets. There were no indications that it was struck by a ship or that it died from human interaction.

Federal biologists determined that the 40-foot sperm whale that washed ashore nearby died after a ship hit it. The whale had a large gash on its side.

Westerly winds and currents may have caused the two whales to wash ashore near each other, Allyssa Casteel, who is on staff at Seaside Aquarium, told the news outlet. Gray whales are currently migrating south for the winter to their birthing and breeding grounds near Baja California.

The whales at Fort Stevens are not the only cetaceans currently decomposing on Oregon’s beaches.

On Jan. 11, a gray whale washed up on the state’s central coast near Reedsport, Jim Rice, program manager for the NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network, who examined the male, said it appeared the creature had been killed by orcas, who have been known to prey on gray whales.

An increase in the number of gray whales stranding on the west coast, from Mexico to Alaska, prompted the NOAA in 2019 to announce an “Unusual Mortality Event.” Such events are declared when animals strand unexpectedly or when there is a “significant die-off” of a population that demands an immediate response.

The ongoing NOAA investigation has identified several reasons behind the gray whale population decline, including ecological changes in the Arctic affecting the seafloor and animals the whales feed on each summer.

The gray whale population has declined by 38% from its peak in 2015 and 2016, the NOAA found, partly stemming from low birth numbers in recent years.

Oregon’s Dungeness Crab Fishermen Suffering From Short Season And Rough Weather And Low Prices

If you buy a fresh Oregon Dungeness crab from the market this weekend, you’ll pay around $7.95 a pound – half what you it cost you at this time last year.

But because of the dynamics of the industry – and the law of supply and demand – the crabber who has hundreds of thousands of dollars tied up in a boat and spent 36 hours tossed around at sea this week is being paid half — $2-3 a pound — of what he earned last year.

The owners and operators of Oregon’s 320-boat Dungeness fleet — just like their farming counterparts — are at the mercy of the sea and the market, which can range from boom to gloom depending on a number of factors. After a boom in Dungeness prices last year, this year it’s mostly gloom for the fleet because of the season’s late start and unsold, frozen crab from 2020-21.

Oregon’s most valuable commercial fishery officially opened Sunday. But stormy weather kept a lot of the fleet in port until mid-week. They’re just now delivering the bounty from pots that had been sitting on the ocean bottom for days.

“It’s largely weather, but if the price was $5 a pound you’d see a lot more boats out there,” said one industry expert who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “But at $2 a pound, a lot may say ‘I’m not risking my crew for that’.”

Issues this year were set up last season, when commercial crabbing opened Dec. 1 – the first time in eight years it started on the earliest possible date. That opener came just in time for the holidays when consumers still had stimulus money and were ready to throw off pandemic restrictions.

The average price per pound in December 2021 was $4.91, rose to $5.98 in January 2022 and reached $7.58 in April. The average for the season, which can stretch to August, was $5.33 per pound, according to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.

That led to 15.3 million pounds of Dungeness crab being caught in December and January – nearly 90 percent of the 2021-2022 season’s total harvest.

This month the opening price for crab destined for the “live” and the whole, cooked market is $3 to $3.25 per pound. The price of crab that Oregon processors will freeze for shipping or store for the future is $2.25 per pound.

Those are half the prices of last January.

While the Oregon Dungeness season can officially begin Dec. 1, state biologists sample crab weekly along the coast to monitor the amount of meat in each and to test for levels of domoic acid in their guts. If tests show low levels of meat or high levels of acid, then the season is delayed – sometimes coast wide or sometimes just in specific areas.

This season the coast-wide harvest was first delayed from Dec. 1 to Dec. 15, then again to Dec. 31, and a third time to Jan. 15 – but only from Manzanita in the north to Coos Bay in the south.

The north coast season opens Feb. 1; ODFW expects to know Friday when the south coast season might begin.

The delays this year led to the formation of a group of smaller boat owners who said state regulators could have opened specific areas of the ocean to crabbing in early December – in time to meet holiday demand. The group, which hopes to form a nonprofit organization to advocate for small- and mid-sized crabbers, also criticized the makeup of an ODFW Dungeness advisory committee that it believes is dominated by processors who have an interest in keeping prices low.

The publication of the letter led to an unusual rebuttal from the ODFW and Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission, which defended testing procedures and the late start as necessary to maintain high quality.

Industry observers, crabbers and processors say it was the early start and heavy demand in 2021-22 that led to the record-high prices. “Last year’s price raised a lot of eyebrows,” the industry expert said.

But Pacific Seafood kept buying at the high prices for its large frozen market, then got caught with inventory during the summer when consumers suddenly stopped spending as they began to worry about high inflation and prospects of a recession.

“And then it just came to came to a halt,” Dan Obradovich, Pacific Seafood’s Dungeness crab manager told the industry publication SeafoodSource in November. “Once we work through that bubble of inventory then I feel like things will get back to normalcy. It’s going to take a little while, but definitely that that adjustment in price was painful for a lot of people. The prices are going to have to adjust. But I don’t see the market getting back to where it was a year ago, just because I don’t see that kind of demand happening.”

Crabbers generally do not come together to negotiate prices with processors. They tried several times over the last six years, then broke apart when some crabbers left port to set and pull pots. The fleet is too varied and each operator has their own issues and goals to easily organize.

Oregon law allows associations to try to organize crabbers at each of the coast’s major ports, but they need 51 percent of the permit holders to sign on in order to represent the entire group. Processors can also organize into a bargaining group, but also need cooperation from processors who handled 51 percent of the harvest.

There has not been enough participation from either side the last three years to have the Oregon Department of Agriculture help with price negotiations.

The organization in Newport – called the Newport Crab Marketing Association – currently has about 20 members.

On Jan. 12 Pacific Seafood sent a letter to Oregon crabbers notifying them it would pay $3 a pound for the first 400,000 pounds of live crab and $2.25 for cooked quality crab. It gave crabbers wanting to sell to them 48 hours to sign on. Prices are similar for the handful of other commercial processors along the coast.

Once the season is under way, Pacific Seafood said, its managers at each processing plant had authority to adjust prices based on quality, ability to sell to live or frozen markets, the harvest volume and operating costs.

Many consumers consider Dungeness a luxury purchase, especially when prices go over $10 a pound. So the low prices this year may help keep demand up – even if the holidays are over.

ODOT Begins Work On New EV Fast Charging Stations – Seeks Public Opinion

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) announced that they’re partnering up with private companies to begin work on new EV fast charging stations along Interstate 5, U.S. Highway 97, and Interstate 205.

The new charging stations are funded thanks to the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program.  $7.5-billion in funds has been secured for EV charging infrastructure across the U.S., with more than $7-billion going towards ‘critical minerals supply chains that are necessary for batteries, components, materials, and recycling.  

NEVI will provide $5-billion in funding to states in order to build charging stations along highway corridors.

ODOT says that the stations will be no farther than 50 miles apart from each other, and, if possible, within one mile of an exit.  

ODOT is asking residents who live along those corridors to check out their online open house and take a survey so they can gather data on local factors to consider. 

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