A tumultuous decade came to a tumultuous end, with 2019 offering no shortage of high-profile news events around the country and here in Oregon. Here are a few top stories for the year, in no particular order.
Former Oregon Ducks wide receiver wrestles shotgun from student at Parkrose High
May 17 had all the makings of a tragedy.
A troubled young man walked toward Parkrose High School in Northeast Portland. In his hands, a loaded black shotgun. Wearing a black trenchcoat, the senior — visibly distraught — entered a classroom right before lunch. A student in the room said he appeared in the doorway and pulled the gun from beneath his coat.
Chaos ensued as some panicked students barricaded themselves in classrooms while others streamed from the school, frantically texting parents and friends.
But May 17 did not unfold like the school shootings that have become sadly familiar. No shots were fired. The young man, later identified as Angel Granados-Diaz, never pulled the trigger.
And that’s largely due to the quick action of Keanon Lowe, a coach at the school and a former star wide receiver for the Oregon Ducks. He also worked as a security guard at the high school. On May 17, Lowe said his mind was focused on preparing his students for a district track meet, and he had never met Granados-Diaz, who was 18 at the time of the incident, when the student walked into the fourth-period government class.
Acting on instinct, Lowe lunged for the gun and wrestled with Granados-Diaz, trying his best to make sure the weapon wasn’t pointed at anyone. Lowe got the gun secured and wrapped the young man in a tight embrace.
“He didn’t really say anything,” Lowe recalled. “I just held him and told him that I was there to save him.”
Lowe was hailed nationwide as a hero. He was interviewed by Good Morning America and also accepted the Portland Police Bureau’s highest civilian award, a civilian medal of heroism.
It would be revealed later that Granados-Diaz hadn’t gone to the school with the intention of harming anyone other than himself. Depressed after a recent breakup, he had only brought one round for the shotgun. On it, he had written “The last red pill 5-17-19 just for me.”
In October, he was sentenced to three years of probation and any mental health treatment that he needs.
Oregon Republican lawmakers walk out twice to block passage of bills
In May, Republican lawmakers in the Oregon State Senate left the capital and refused to return. Their aim was to block a vote on a bill that would have raised billions of dollars in new taxes to boost spending on public schools and early childhood education. Republicans objected and left the capitol to prevent a vote on the legislation.
The Senators returned after four days and the tax measure was passed, but not before the Republicans secured promises that the Democrats would kill proposals to tighten Oregon’s vaccine mandate and gun regulations.
The most contentious bill of the session remained on the agenda, though, and the relative peace between the parties didn’t last long.
In June, the Senate took up House Bill 2020, a cap-and-trade bill aimed at reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by requiring polluters to buy allowances to cover some portion of their emissions. Republicans vehemently opposed the bill and again fled the capitol, some taking refuge as far away as Idaho. Militia groups offered “security” to the senators and protests were held in the capitol. Gov. Kate Brown enlisted state troopers to seek out the missing legislators and bring them back to Salem. Sen. Brian Boquist said he told the Oregon State Police superintendent to “send bachelors and come heavily armed. I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It’s just that simple.” His comments, which many viewed as a threat to state troopers, set off a firestorm of controversy.
In the end, it wasn’t the absence of Republicans that doomed the bill. It was the erosion of Democratic support. Senate President Peter Courtney announced that he no longer had enough votes to pass the carbon-capping measure and, after nine days of the walkout, the Republicans returned to work.
‘Polluted by Money’ investigation exposes influence of political donations on Oregon’s environmental policies
Oregon has a reputation as a bastion of progressive environmental policy. But over the last four years, Oregon’s most powerful industries have killed, weakened or stalled efforts to address environmental issues including climate change, wolf recovery, diesel exhaust, oil spill planning and aerial spraying of herbicides. Among West Coast states, Oregon is dead last on a long list of environmental protections.
And it all comes down to money, as detailed in “Polluted by Money,” a four-part series from Oregonian/OregonLive investigative reporter Rob Davis.
Oregon is one of only five states with no limits on campaign contributions and the state’s failure to regulate campaign cash has made it one of the biggest money states in American politics. Companies and industry groups contributed $43 million to winning candidates in elections from 2008 to 2016, nearly half the money legislators raised. Organized labor, environmental groups and individual donors didn’t come close. The flood of money created an easy regulatory climate where industry gets what it wants, again and again.
“It often takes things off the table that need to be part of the discussion,” said Phil Kiesling, former Oregon Secretary of State. “People live in fear of offending people who have very deep pockets.”
After the series was published, the Oregon Legislature took the most significant step toward campaign finance reform in decades. Lawmakers agreed to let voters decide whether to amend the constitution to allow donation limits. Voters will have their say in November 2020.
Portland’s culture of dueling political protests continues
The tension had been building for a while. After a mostly peaceful May Day, a brawl between right-wing and antifascist protesters broke out at a bar in Southeast Portland. A couple months later, a conservative blogger was assaulted at a downtown protest, eliciting calls from Republican politicians and pundits for the mayor to resign.
All of that served as the backdrop for Aug. 17, when the Proud Boys, a group of right-wing street fighters who bill themselves as a “pro-Western fraternal organization,” and their followers descended upon the city. In the run-up to that protest, right-wing organizers had promised violence and antifacist groups had promised strong resistance.
Despite weeks of hype from national media outlets and thousands flocking to Portland’s waterfront, the protests on Aug. 17 saw only isolated incidents of violence and relatively few arrests given the level of vitriol that preceded the day’s events.
Even though the bedlam predicted failed to materialize, the protests underscored a problematic trend that has been on the rise for years: Portland has become a magnet for these types of events, in which out-of-town agitators come to the city to perform violent street theater under the guise of political speech.
Thousands take to Portland streets to protest inaction on climate change
The groundwork for Portland’s climate strike was laid more than a year before the march and thousands of miles away when Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg decided to skip school to protest inaction on the climate crisis.
Just over a year later, thousands of Portlanders, mostly students, took to the streets in one of hundreds of marches across the country, with Thunberg leading her own rally in New York. The demonstrations, which attracted millions around the globe, were all focused on combating climate change, but marchers in Portland had some specific demands. Youth activists urged the city and county to fund TriMet’s YouthPass program and they called on Mayor Ted Wheeler to take more aggressive action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Students also walked out in Salem and Eugene and Corvallis. Statewide, throngs of young people demanded Oregon lawmakers adopt a Green New Deal, phase out fossil fuel infrastructure and invest in renewable energy.
Portland’s march started in Terry Schrunk Plaza and followed a route across the Hawthorne Bridge to a festival near OMSI. At one point the line of protesters stretched nearly a mile long.
“My generation is going to have a massive crisis to deal with if we don’t do anything about these problems right now,” said Jaden Winn, a Lincoln High School junior and one of several organizers of the Portland iteration of the global strike.
A similar, albeit slightly smaller, climate strike took place in early December.
Two die in Oregon as wave of vaping illness sweeps the nation
As a mysterious illness caused by vaping products swept the nation, sickening more than 2,000 and killing 48, Oregon has seen its share of the vexing cases.
At least 20 people have fallen ill in Oregon and two have died as researchers for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control continue to search for the cause of the acute lung disease. Their search has centered on vitamin E acetate, a thickening agent sometimes added to vape fluid, though “evidence is not yet sufficient to rule out contribution of other chemicals of concern,” the agency said.
In the absence of concrete information, local, state and federal agencies have been trying to curb use of e-cigarettes, both by telling people to stop and, in some cases, by banning the products. Gov. Kate Brown on Oct. 4 ordered a six-month ban on sales of all flavored vaping products with nicotine or THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. The ban is on hold, for now, as companies that sell and produce the products fight Brown’s order in the Oregon Court of Appeals.
The mysterious death of Dennis Day
Dennis Day, 76, an original member of TV’s “The Mickey Mouse Club,” vanished from his southern Oregon home in July of 2018, but the case languished for months before police discovered his remains inside his secluded home in the small community of Phoenix, near Medford.
After his brief stint on television, Day spent his 20s and 30s in California. He met his husband, Henry “Ernie” Caswell, and the couple moved to Oregon in the 1980s.
More recently, Caswell’s health began to decline and, on July 13, 2018, a fall sent him to the hospital and then to an assisted living facility. Days after his husband was hospitalized, Day told a close friend that the couple’s live-in handyman, Daniel Burda, had pushed him to the ground. The friend told Day they would report it to police the following morning, but he never saw the former child actor again.
After he disappeared, investigators searched Day’s home multiple times, but found no sign of him. By February, the case went national, with stories on FoxNews.com and the Dateline NBC website. In April, police returned with a cadaver dog and found human remains. A month later, police identified them as identified as Day’s. It was unclear how investigators had missed them during previous searches.
Burda was arrested and charged with killing day, but a judge found him unfit to stand trial, citing an unspecified “mental disorder,” and had him committed to the Oregon State Hospital.
Legendary Oregon track coach faces 4-year ban for doping, accusations of emotional abuse
In October, Alberto Salazar, a legend in the track and field community and coach of the Nike Oregon Project, was banned from the sport for four years for “orchestrating and facilitating prohibited doping conduct,” according to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
Also banned was Dr. Jeffrey Brown, a Houston-based endocrinologist who had treated Portland-based athletes for the Nike Oregon Project.
Among other allegations, Salazar and Brown are accused of possessing and trafficking testosterone gel and using infusions of a supplement called L-carnitine that can greatly enhance athletic performance.
As an athlete, Salazar was a star at the University of Oregon. He set a world record in the marathon, too, won the Boston marathon once, and won three straight New York City marathons. As head coach of the Nike Oregon Project, Salazar coached athletes who won Olympic medals, set records and won numerous races around the world. He coached superstars Mo Farah and Galen Rupp during the 2012 Olympic Games, where both won multiple medals. As the head coach of the Nike Oregon Project, he oversaw the training regimen of some of the sport’s top athletes.
The team was disbanded after Salazar was banned and he is appealing the ruling.
In November, at least four runners who Salazar previously coached accused him of body shaming them to the point of emotional abuse.
“On occasion, I may have made comments that were callous or insensitive over the course of years of helping my athletes through hard training,” Salazar wrote in a statement. “If any athlete was hurt by any comments that I have made, such an effect was entirely unintended, and I am sorry. I do dispute, however, the notion that any athlete suffered any abuse or gender discrimination while running for the Oregon Project.”
Gordon Sondland testifies in impeachment hearings, is accused of sexual misconduct
In November, Portland hotelier and long-time campaign contributor Gordon Sondland found himself at the center of arguably the biggest political story of the decade: the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.
Sondland made his fortune building a boutique hotel empire in Seattle and Portland and has been making hefty donations to politicians since at least 2007. His donations have mostly gone to Republican candidates, though a series of contributions made by Sondland or his companies went to former Gov. John Kitzhaber. According to an Oregonian/OregonLive analysis, Sondland donated more than $700,000 to political candidates between 2007 and 2019.
And that was before his $1 million donation to the president’s inauguration, largely credited with securing him his current role as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union.
When Democrats accused President Trump of abusing his power by withholding military aid while asking Ukrainian officials to investigate the son of his political rival, Joe Biden, Sondland played a pivotal role and was called to testify before Congress.
In a hours-long appearance before lawmakers, Sondland testified that it was clear to him that the president was seeking the investigation for his own political interests. “Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes,” Sondland told the panel. Republicans pushed back, saying that Sondland’s conclusions were based on a series of assumptions about the president’s state of mind.
Where nearly everyone called to testify in the impeachment hearings has brought a somber mood to the occasion, Sondland seemed to relish his time in the spotlight, cracking jokes and laughing throughout his appearance.
Within a few weeks of his testimony, Sondland was accused by three women of sexual misconduct in the course of running his hotels, allegations that he categorically denied.