Whether it was an historic ice storm, drama at city hall, or kids going back to school after a year of distance learning, there were no shortage of newsworthy stories in Keizer.
Here were some of the top stories that were featured in the Keizertimes in 2021.
The Chris Eppley saga
On Thursday, March 4, then-Keizer City Manager Chris Eppley discharged a firearm in his office inside the Keizer Civic Center around noon. Eppley had served as Keizer’s city manager since 2000.
According to a press release, the Keizer City Council had retained an outside investigator to investigate the accidental discharge of a firearm by Eppley. No one was injured in this incident.
Weeks later, allies of the embattled city manager turned out in droves urging the Keizer City Council to use restraint as they determine what actions would be taken next.
In a description of the incident, Eppley said he was “preoccupied” when the discharge happened. He stated that he brought pieces of firearms into his office on previous occasions, but claimed it was the first time he ever carried a full, loaded firearm into the Keizer Civic Center. Doing so would appear to have been a violation of ORS 166.370, which prohibits “possession of firearm or dangerous weapon in public building or court facility, states any person who intentionally possesses a loaded or unloaded firearm or any other instrument used as a dangerous weapon, while in or on a public building.”
Conviction on such a charge is a Class C felony, but no police report appears to have been made regarding the incident. Instead, Eppley contacted the city’s human resources director, the chair of the civic center’s safety committee and the mayor.
On Monday, April 5, Eppley resigned from his position. He was offered six months salary and a year of insurance coverage after tendering his resignation.
Since his resignation after discharging a gun in his office, Eppley has been hired by Marion County as a community development manager and appointed the temporary city manager of Detroit.
Assistance requests surge in wake of unprecedented storm
It was a stressful and exhausting 72-hour period for the first responders at Marion County Fire District #1 (MCFD1) and Keizer Fire District (KFD) during what was one of the worst ice storms in recent history.
From Feb. 12 to Feb. 14, MCFD1 responded to 234 emergency calls, a 350% increase in their daily average call volume — 79 calls were for emergency medical services (EMS) and 155 calls were for downed trees or power lines.
Due to the number of high priority calls, limited on-duty staffing and a low number of volunteers, dozens of lower priority calls went unanswered — fortunately no personnel injuries were reported.
“It was absolute craziness, almost controlled chaos. It was an overwhelming number of calls, one after the other. There was no break,” MCFD1 Fire Chief Kyle McMann said. “There were instances of wives bringing dinners to their husbands on scene because they hadn’t stopped working for 24 hours. But that’s what we are trained to do. You just have to keep going.”
Ann-Marie Storms, the KFD deputy fire marshal, reported that the district responded to 152 calls over the same 72-hour period. Storms also said that on a busy day, the district receives between 19 and 20 calls over a 24-hour period.
By 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 13, KFD had already responded to more than 50 calls for downed power lines — KFD had one engine and three medic units on-call, full of a mix of career staff and volunteers.
McMann said that some people had to wait anywhere between 30 minutes to several hours to receive service and that 911 dispatch had, at one time, had hundreds of calls pending. KFD reported similar issues with pending calls.
MCFD1 had three medic units on duty during the 72-hour shift, but McMann said two stations of volunteers played a pivotal role in the process.
Man charged for rampage through Keizer; pedestrian killed
On Wednesday, July 28, at approximately 8:40 p.m.., Keizer Police Department Officers responded to a suspicious vehicle call behind a business at the corner of River Rd. and Dearborn Rd.
Upon arriving at the scene, officers confirmed that the suspicious vehicle had been reported stolen earlier that day. Additionally, the officers were able to observe that a man standing next to the vehicle, later identified as Sean Beck, had a gun on his left hip.
As police approached the vehicle Beck got into the driver’s seat. He failed to comply with commands and began shooting at the officers, who returned fire. Beck then drove away from the scene, going south on River Road, while police pursued him.
During the pursuit, Becky Dietzel, was struck and killed as she attempted to walk across River Road at the intersection of River Road and Cummings. Beck continued driving until Salem police were able to use a tactical maneuver to stop the vehicle near Home Depot on Cherry Avenue.
At that location police fired a single shot and, after a standoff, Beck eventually surrendered and was transported to Salem Hospital due to multiple gunshot wounds. No police officers were injured during the extended confrontation with Beck.
A Marion County Grand Jury unanimously found that Keizer police officers Jeremy Darst, Scott Keniston, Chad Fahey, Cody Stupfel, Michael Kowash and Sergeant Kevin DeMarco were justified in their use of deadly force against Beck on July 28.
The same grand jury indicted Beck for:
• Attempted Aggravated Murder with a Firearm (two counts)
• Manslaughter in the First Degree
• Unlawful Use of a Weapon with a Firearm (five counts)
• Theft in the First Degree (three counts)
• Felon in Possession of a Firearm (three counts)
• Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle
• Failure to Perform the Duties of a Driver
• Attempt to Elude a Police Officer
‘Every time we find a home they kick us out’: The story of a sweep at an Indian School Road camp
Less than a half-mile east of Keizer Station, on the outskirts of Salem, sat a homeless camp. The camp, located along Indian School Road, was one of eight homeless camps dispersed by the Oregon Department of Education (ODOT) from Nov. 2 to Nov. 17. ODOT calls these sweeps of camps “site restorations.”
At 8 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 15, residents at the camp were told that they had until 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 16 to vacate the premises and find a new place to live. In the hours before tow trucks were set to begin removing vehicles, campers scrambled to pack their belongings and get their cars and RVs started.
“We just need more time. We will move, we just need more time. I can’t lose my RV,” said one female camper at the time.
“It seems like every time we find a home they want to kick us out,” said Tim, a man staying at the camp.
By Monday, Nov. 22, the area where the Indian School Camp once sat was now completely “restored.” About a half-mile north of where the camp used to be located, 18 cars and RVs sat parked along Indian School Road. Many of them were the same ones who had been scrambling to find a new place to live just a week before.
Conflicting reports surround COVID outbreak at Bonaventure Senior Living
On Sept. 1, the Oregon Health Authority reported that an outbreak that began Aug. 23 at Bonaventure of Keizer Assisted Living and Memory Care had infected five people. On Sept. 9, the outbreak had spread to 24 people and one resident had died.
Aubrey Kelly’s grandmother began living in the Memory Care unit at Bonaventure of Keizer in late July of this year.
On Sept. 8, Kelly received a phone call from her grandmother telling her that she had a fever. Kelly was surprised, since she was supposed to be informed if her grandmother was ever sick.
“I started trying to call Bonaventure and I could never get through. I’m talking 20 times I tried to call and I couldn’t get through,” Kelly said.
Bonaventure said in an email to the Keizertimes that their telephone service “has been experiencing sporadic outages and we have notified the carrier.”
After being unable to reach anyone on the phone, Kelly’s sister went to the facility that night and a caregiver said her grandmother had been in bed for two days with a fever and a cough.
Kelly returned to the facility the next morning, and said the assistant director told her there was no documentation of her grandmother having a fever or her grandmother ever being tested for COVID.
As of Sept. 13, Kelly said three different caregivers said her grandmother had a fever, but no one knew if, or when, she was tested for COVID. Kelly said she was told all Memory Care residents are supposed to be tested on Saturdays.
“Because of the outbreak and because of the terrible use of personal protective equipment that I have witnessed, I think she probably does have COVID,” Kelly said Friday, Sept. 10. “But I still can’t figure out if she’s been tested.”
In response to a list of written questions from the Keizertimes, Bonaventure officials said there have been 22 COVID cases since Aug. 16, not 24 as OHA had reported. They also said COVID was “introduced into Bonaventure of Keizer on Aug. 19, 2021 by a fully vaccinated person. It is likely that it was introduced by more than one source.”
All 22 cases, according to Bonaventure, are residents. The Assisted Living and Memory Care facilities at Bonaventure of Keizer have a combined 96 licensed beds. Bonaventure said the outbreak also included the Independent Living facility.
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) data on vaccination rates at long-term care facilities, which was last updated Aug. 16, shows that 34% of staff members at Bonaventure of Keizer are vaccinated. The same data shows that 99% of residents are vaccinated.
The vaccination rate of staff at the Bonaventure of Keizer is the second-worst among long-term care facilities in Marion County. Another Bonaventure facility, Bonaventure of Salem, reported a 12% vaccination rate among staff on Aug. 16.
Local schools welcome back students for first day
The morning of Wednesday, Sept. 8 served as a momentous day in Keizer as K-12 students made their way to their first day of full, in-person school in 18 months — with a multitude of students stepping on their school’s campus for the first time.
Despite their being numerous COVID-19 protocols at each school — such as a mask requirement for all who enter the school and vaccination requirements for staff — school personnel were thrilled to be back on campus.
“I am so fired up for today. I couldn’t sleep last night I was so excited about a sense of normalcy,” McNary Principal Erik Jespersen said. “We still have a pandemic that we are working through, but to have kids here five days a week, to be fully engaged in their learning and having school back to somewhat normal is amazing. I am so excited. This is probably the most excited I have been in 24 years of education.”
“It feels great to see kids walking into the classroom. For many of our kids this is their first time. This is just one sign of us being back on track,” Assistant Superintendent Iton Udosenata added. “After months of planning, I’m just excited that the day has finally arrived.”
Councilor Ross Day resigns following outburst at Nov. 1 council meeting
Councilor Ross Day resigned from his position on the Keizer City Council following a Nov. 1 meeting that left Council President Elizabeth Smith “shocked and speechless” and Keizer Mayor Cathy Clark publicly condemning his behavior.
“I’ve got a great family, a great job, I don’t need the drama of the city council. They wanted me to sit around like a bump on a pickle, and that’s not who I am,” Day said during a phone call following the news of his resignation.
“We thank Ross Day for his service and wish him well in the future,” Clark said in a written statement.
Day’s resignation came days after a meeting in which he vehemently opposed the naming of the Community Diversity Engagement Committee and said the committee would be used by its members as a platform to attack others and call people racists, homophobes and bigots. During the meeting, Day also called Keizertimes publisher Lyndon Zaitz a “liar” and said the local paper was a “parrot” for people in the community that he described as “idiots.”
McNary grad numbers leap: Latino students lead the pack
After recording their best graduation numbers in more than a decade in 2019, the McNary High School class of 2020 again posted some of the best numbers in the Salem-Keizer School District.
McNary’s four-year senior cohort graduated 91.21% of students in 2020, just over 10% higher than the district average. It was the second year in a row that McNary graduated more than 90% of their senior class.
“This isn’t a blip. We have been tracking these numbers for the last six years and we have seen consistent growth year in and year out,” McNary principal Erik Jespersen said. “It’s validating to know that we are going in the right direction as a collective school.”
One of the biggest sources of pride for Jespersen was seeing the four-year graduation rate for Latino students.
When Jespersen took over as the McNary principal during the 2014-15 school year, Latino students, which represent approximately one-third of the McNary student body, had a 73% graduation rate. During that same year, white students posted an 86% graduation rate.
Over the last six years, the gap has completely closed. According to Jespersen, 2020 was the first year in school history that Latino students had a higher graduation rate (91.48%) than white students (91.25%) — the Latino graduation rate numbers improved nearly 7% from last year.
The 91.25% Latino graduation at McNary is 12% higher than the state average.
“It’s so incredibly gratifying to know that if you are walking in our hallways, the chance you are going to have success is extremely high and it propels you to be a successful citizen for the rest of your life. It just matters. We don’t have gaps at our school. We serve all of our kids. It’s a really great feeling,” Jespersen said.
State Rep. Bill Post resigns
After announcing in late September that he had moved to Nevada, Republican state Rep. Bill Post told the Keizertimes that he would be resigning from his position as the House District 25 representative effective Nov. 30. Post had originally said that he would continue to serve as state representative while living in Nevada.
“After further discussions with an elections attorney and talking it over with my wife, it appears that the best action I can take for my district and my family is to resign before my term is over and give my successor a chance to serve during the 2022 Short Legislative Session,” Post said in a press release sent to the Keizertimes.
Post has been a resident of Keizer since 1994 and has served as state representative for Keizer, St. Paul and Newberg since 2014. While Post had announced in early September that he would not be seeking re-election, his current term wasn’t set to officially expire until January 2023.
Wing calls it a career after 32 years at Gubser
Wally Wing has spent the majority of his life in the gym.
Whether it has been coaching or teaching physical education, Wing has been dedicated to imparting wisdom to youngsters for nearly four decades.
But after 32 years as a physical education teacher at Gubser Elementary, Wing decided that it was time to enter the next phase of his life: retirement.
“You know it’s time to retire when your old office gets bricked in. Or when your ID number for (SKSD) is three digits when everyone else’s is seven or eight,” Wing said with a smile.
Some people may get weary of working in the same place for more than 30 years. But Wing couldn’t ever see himself at a different spot.
“Even though it’s the same school, it’s new kids every year, with new challenges. I always felt that the kids were the most important. It just seemed like when I went to look at other positions, high school or middle school, I could never find what I thought was a better thing for me to do,” Wing said.
Along with teaching, Wing also served as the primary assistant coach for the Willamette University men’s basketball team, which was one of the most successful small-college programs in the Northwest during his tenure.
Wing was a part of the Willamette coaching staff from 1987 to 2009 and helped coach the Bearcats to the NAIA National Championship in 1993 when Willamette achieved a 29-4 record.
“(Wally) displayed a special talent in being able to connect with players of all ages. He was an excellent teacher of the game who stressed correct skill execution. He taught the fundamentals of the game, but most importantly he taught the fundamentals of life,” said former Willamette head coach Gordie James.
Chick-fil-A gets council greenlight
Construction of a Chick-fil-A near Keizer Station moved one step closer to reality at a meeting of the Keizer City Council Monday, Feb. 1.
Councilors approved changes to a master plan that removes a proposed auto lube business to accommodate additional parking for the fast food restaurant.
“We’re super-excited to be part of the community and see this project get going,” said Steve Schwartz, development manager for the Atlanta-based chain.
Asked by Mayor Cathy Clark what prompted the restaurant to choose Keizer, Schwartz said it was partly based on the success of locations in the Portland area.
“Keizer had great commuting patterns and was very business friendly as well,” Schwartz said. He commended Shane Witham, Keizer’s interim community development director, in particular.
The 128-seat location could create as many as 80-100 jobs for the area, Schwartz said.
If things go according to plan, the Chick-fil-A will be located in a space between Chemawa Road Northeast and Ulali Drive Northeast. The space is south of Keizer Station and will become the first development in an area identified as Chemawa Station.
Chuck Lee passes at 72
Charles E. (Chuck) Lee, a fixture in Salem-Keizer education, passed away on Saturday, Sept. 4, at the age of 72.
Lee, born May 18, 1949 in Seattle, served on the Salem-Keizer School Board and represented Keizer from 2007 to 2019. He was the founding president of Blanchet Catholic School in Salem from 1997 to 2013.
Before relocating to Oregon he was an educator in Washington state where he was the youngest Catholic School principal when he was hired at the age of 25.
Lee served on the Keizer City Council from 2001 to 2007; he ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2006.
In 2014 he helped found the Career Technical Education Center in Salem, a public-private project to prepare high school students for high-skill jobs. Lee served as president.
Charles Lee is survived by his wife, Krina Lee.
MCFD1 breathing sigh of relief after levy approval
After suffering through a pair of failed levies over the last year, Marion County Fire District #1 (MCFD1) had their local option levy (Measure #24-455) pass with over 60% of the vote at the May 18 Special District election.
The levy, which will last for the next five years, is for $0.59 per $1,000 of assessed property value — or $59 ($4.92 per month) per $100,000 of value.
“We were absolutely ecstatic. It was great to know that our message was received,” said MCFD1 fire chief Kyle McMann. “We know things are tight still, but now we can limit liability for our firefighters and our citizens.”
After receiving a $0.71 levy from 2016 to 2020, the district asked voters to increase the levy by $0.28 at the primary election in May 2020, but at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ballot measure was not approved — it was the first time a levy wasn’t approved in the history of the district.
At the November 2020 general election, MCFD1 asked voters to renew the $0.71 levy, but once again the measure failed, forcing the district to cut $2.4 million from their $19.7 million budget — MCFD1 is an independent taxing district and receives no revenue from Marion County, the state or federal government, emergency services are funded through a permanent tax rate of $1.90 of $1,000 of assessed property value.
Due to the budget cuts, MCFD1 was forced to layoff 12 full-time firefighter/paramedics, close down fire stations in Macleay and Labish Center and take emergency apparatus out of service.
But with the passing of the levy, the district will be able to rehire nine firefighter/paramedic positions this summer and add a dedicated three-person engine company, which will be placed at the district’s Middle Grove location. The number of responding units will also increase from three to four, which will help with the delays in response times MCFD1 has experienced over the last year.
KFD endures busiest summer in history
It was a busy summer for Keizer Fire District (KFD) as the department experienced a substantial increase in call volume.
In July 2019, KFD responded to more that 500 calls service in a month, which at the time was a district record. That record was shattered last month as the district went on 608 calls for service in July for an average of 19.6 calls per day.
The 608 service calls broke the record for most calls the district had responded to in a month — KFD staffs one battalion chief, one engine company and three medic units per day, all with 10-12 firefighters.
“It has been extremely busy,” KFD Division Chief of Operations Brian Butler said. “Everyone has been inside for a year, we have been told to not do anything and stay at home. Then everything opened up, and it just happened to be summer time. It has been a different summer because of those things, so we are trying to cope the best we can and try to maintain our staffing.”
Running over 19 calls per day has forced the district into long-range planning for the future as KFD is planning on renewing their local option levy at $0.59 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2023. KFD Fire Chief Jeff Cowan said that KFD needs more resources, people and trucks, and that the district has been having ongoing conversations about future funding.
Along with running an exorbitant amount of medical calls, KFD firefighters also had an incredibly busy month on conflagrations. The district sent out multiple crews to numerous fires throughout the state, including the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon — one of the largest in state history.