Patti Copeland took the high school graduation photo of her 19-year-old son from the wall and handed it to sheriff’s detective.
That’s him, detective John Dougherty told her.
No, she thought. Her son was at a barbecue at Topsy Reservoir. She’d seen him a few hours ago.
The detective told her what he knew: Brian Copeland became tangled in weeds and drowned as he tried to save his friend, Chris Cudo, from the murky waters of Topsy Reservoir. A fight among Cudo, Copeland and four others broke out, and authorities believed Cudo stabbed another teen. Then, was Cudo pushed off the ledge? Was he chased?
“It’s very easy to let it consume you, but you can’t — you have to keep moving on,” Patti Copeland said.
Nine violent deaths
Copeland’s death on May 28 was among nine violent deaths in Klamath County in 2007.
Six were ruled murders, one a justifiable police homicide and the remaining two — Cudo and Copeland’s — were ruled inconclusive. Authorities investigated the cases as homicides, but said they couldn’t prove their deaths came at the hand of others.
The deaths are part of a growing trend of homicidal violence in the past two years that authorities are still trying to interpret.
“There’s no rhyme or reason,” Klamath County District Attorney Ed Caleb said. “There’s no logical reason for any of these homicides.”
Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger agreed.
“As we review the numbers and the recent spike in the last two years, you can’t take even two of the cases and compare them because they are so different that they seem as if they are random and spur of the moment situations,” he said.
The number of murders in Klamath County last year was the highest since 1989, according to Oregon Uniform Crime Reports.
The rate in 2006 — five murders and three other violent deaths — was the highest since 1998. These numbers followed nearly two decades in which local authorities saw an average of two murders a year.
The violent death count doesn’t include suicides, but deaths in which a second person contributed to a person’s death. Authorities categorize violent deaths as murders when there’s a willful, criminal act and charges are typically filed.
In 2006, a self-defense shooting, an accidental shooting and a fatal car crash with criminal charges weren’t ruled murders.
In 2006, five of the eight violent deaths involved a firearm. One victim was strangled. One was stabbed and another victim was hit by a car.
Five of the cases involved alcohol. One involved methamphetamine. Two of the violent deaths were between strangers.
The youngest victim was 15; the oldest was 51. Five of the criminal suspects were in their 20s or younger.
In 2007, authorities saw the same substance abuse trends and say firearms were predominantly used during the crimes. Six of the nine violent deaths involved a firearm.
One was a fatal beating and the two others involved physical force. Five of them involved alcohol and in three, drugs were a contributing factor.
The youngest victim was 20 and the oldest was 56.
Stranger crimes rare
In 2006, the Basin’s murder rate was 7.7 murders per 100,000 population, compared with the national average of 5.7, according to FBI statistics.
Klamath County’s murder rate was nearly double the rate of Portland, which had 3.7 murders per 100,000 people.
Still, Caleb said those numbers don’t show that most homicides were between friends, acquaintances or relatives and not stranger-to-stranger crimes, and many cases emerged from drug and alcohol use. While he’s dismayed with the high numbers, Caleb still believes most Klamath County residents are safe.
“When you start having stranger-to-stranger deaths, that’s when the risk to the average person is much greater,” he said.
Positives in place
And the high number of homicides doesn’t negate Basin residents’ overall well being, said Chip Massie, executive director of the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce.
“I still think we’re seen as small town, and feel safer than other towns,” Massie said. “I think we still have all those positives in place.”
Massie believes the violent crime rate is “a bump that isn’t going to necessarily become a trend.” He attributes it to poverty and declining employment rates, in addition to community growth.
“My feeling is, overall, some shift in crime is going to take place as our community grows,” he said.
Dan Golden, Klamath County Juvenile Department assistant director, also isn’t alarmed at the numbers.
“I think these things generally run in cycles,” Golden said. “We’ve for a long time managed — through good law enforcement — to avoid many of the problems in communities around us. But you can’t avoid that forever.”
Law enforcement probably couldn’t have stopped these crimes, Caleb said.
“You could have a police officer at every street corner and it wouldn’t deter any of these homicides,” he said.
Evinger said the spike in homicides shouldn’t negate the efforts of authorities.
“We have a safe community, we have responsive law enforcement, and for the most part, our solvability rate is very high and we hold these perpetrators accountable,” he said.
The Copelands don’t have the comfort of knowing their son’s perpetrator is being held accountable.
Nearly eight months later, investigators are no closer to answers, and the Copeland family now knows answers won’t bring their son back.
A scrapbook of photos of Brian Copeland is in the family’s living room. It starts with photos of Brian as a smiling infant and toddler. The photos continue through his elementary school years and into his high school years.
The scrapbook ends after Brian’s 19th birthday.
A good kid
Brian was a “gentle giant,” his parents say — not known to pick a fight, but known to stand up for friends or himself. There’s one consolation for the Copelands — they know Brian died while trying to rescue his friend.
“I know enough to know I’m proud of my son,” Mark Copeland said.
The Copelands still can’t believe how a good kid, who never dabbled in drugs and alcohol could die a violent death.
“There’s way too many things and it isn’t going to change anything,” Mark Copeland said.
Murders in 2006
March 23, 2006, downtown Klamath Falls: Diego Aguilar, a 15-year-old California boy, died after he was shot five times in the parking lot of Rivers Inn, 22 Main St. A Klamath Falls teen, Patrick Morris, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
April 5, 2006, Klamath Falls: Toni Bailey, a Klamath Falls woman in her mid-40s, was shot in the head by her husband, Clyde Bailey, 62, before he turned the gun on himself at their Nevada Street apartment.
Nov. 17, 2006, downtown Klamath Falls: Nicholas Kimbol, a 23-year-old Klamath Falls man, was stabbed once in the chest by a 27-year-old Klamath Falls woman, Jennifer Lavassaur, while the two were visiting with friends at a downtown home. Lavassaur was sentenced to 17 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter.
Nov. 20, 2006, Klamath County Jail: Lawrence Joseph, a 41-year-old Chiloquin man being held in a detox cell at the Klamath County Jail to sober up was strangled to death by a cellmate, Larry Baldwin III, 24. Baldwin was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Dec. 5, 2006, Klamath Falls: Debra Chapman, a 51-year-old Klamath Falls retirement home director was shot in the head by one of her residents, James Parrott, while she was doing her job at Klamath View Retirement Center. Parrott, 65, pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Violent deaths not ruled murders in 2006
Aug. 5, 2006, south suburbs: Eddie Valdez Jr., 35, was shot by his uncle, Ricky Hargrove, after Valdez began stabbing his grandfather, uncle and grandfather’s friend with a knife outside a Summers Lane home. A grand jury ruled the shooting was in self-defense and justifiable.
Aug. 20, 2006, Crest Street: Brooke Brosterhous, 22, had been drinking prior to driving her car over Brent Davis, who was lying in the road. Brosterhous was convicted of felony hit and run.
Oct. 17, 2006, Keno: Christopher Eccles, 17, of Klamath Falls was accidentally shot by his friend, Brandon West, when West took out a gun to show Eccles and began playing with it. West was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to criminally negligent homicide.
Murders in 2007
April 8, 2007, south of Klamath Falls: Ricky Urban, a 46-year-old Klamath Falls ranch hand, was shot in the face outside his Hill Road home. The case remains unsolved.
May 29, 2007, downtown Klamath Falls: Christina S. Hunt, a 56-year-old Klamath Falls woman, was found beaten to death in a downtown alley between Main and Pine streets. The case remains unsolved.
May 22, 2007, La Pine: A La Pine man, Robert Warnke Sr., 73, who lives in northern Klamath County, shot his wife, Anne Glaspey-Warnke, 51, before shooting himself.
July 17, 2007, Chiloquin: Brent Skallerud, 51, was shot by his wife, Christine Skallerud, 57, at their Sprague River Road home. Christine Skallerud is charged with murder, and the case is open.
Aug. 19, 2007, west of Klamath Falls: David Kitts, 22, and Marissa Orlow, 20, of Klamath Falls were allegedly fatally shot by Matthew Avina-Norris, 22, at their Bristol Avenue apartment. Avina-Norris is charged with two counts of aggravated murder and aggravated attempted murder of a third person. The case remains open.
Violent deaths not ruled murders in 2007
May 28, 2007, Topsy Reservoir: Brian Copeland and Chris Cudo drowned as a result of a fight at the Topsy Reservoir. Cudo allegedly stabbed another teen when he was pushed or chased off a ledge and into the reservoir. Copeland jumped in, trying to save him. No arrests were made.
April 20, 2007, downtown Klamath Falls: Jesse Johnson, 27, was fatally shot by a Klamath Falls police officer. Johnson had been holding a box cutter to the throat of his 11-month-old son at a downtown Klamath Falls home. The shooting was ruled justifiable.
— Source: Herald and News