Sunriver Police Chief Womer retiring. Stephen Lopez named new chief.

Sunriver Police announced Chief Michael Womer will retire Thursday, ending a 28-year career and nine years in Sunriver.

Lt. Stephen Lopez has been appointed by the Sunriver Service District Board to be the new police chief, the department announced Wednesday. He’ll start the new job on Friday.

“I have been profoundly humbled and grateful to have had the privilege of living in and serving this community, while working with such incredible and noble public servants. It has been an honor and I leave with confidence that Chief Stephen Lopez will be a great change leader who will do far better than I,” Womer said in a statement.

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Sunriver PD says Lopez is 17-year law enforcement veteran. He worked at the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office from 2006 to 2020, working up to the rank of lieutenant. He joined Sunriver Police in January 2021 as a sergeant and was promoted to lieutenant in 2022.

Lopez is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and holds a Master of Public Safety Degree from the University of Virginia, the department said.

“I am incredibly honored and humbled to have the opportunity to serve as the Chief of Police for such a professional department and such a supportive community. I look forward to fostering relationships and leading one of the best law enforcement agencies in the state. I am grateful for Chief Womer’s guidance and leadership and wish him well in his well-deserved retirement” Lopez said in a statement.

Lopez also teaches Criminal Justice courses at Central Oregon Community College and is the Summit High School Girl’s Varsity Rugby Head Coach, the department said.

▶️ Bend-La Pine schools, teachers meeting almost daily as talks continue

The Bend-La Pine School District says negotiations with the teachers union is now happening nearly every day.

After taking Thanksgiving week off from talks, both sides were back at it Monday for all-day negotiations.

Twenty-four hours of negotiations are scheduled over four days this week. The district says negotiations will continue at this pace until a deal is reached.

Teachers are currently working without a contract.

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Roundhouse Foundation grants Family Access Network $50,000 for rural families

Family Access Network (FAN) is getting $50,000 to boost its services in rural areas. The money is from the Roundhouse Foundation and is meant to help those facing food, transportation, housing and health care issues in Sisters, La Pine, Prineville, Sunriver, Terrebonne, Tumalo and Jefferson County.

FAN operates out of schools to connect students with resources and help them succeed in school.

Here is the full release from FAN:

Bend, Ore. – The Family Access Network (FAN) received a $50,000 grant from the Roundhouse Foundation to support FAN advocate services in rural communities throughout Central Oregon. Due to proximity to resources, rural families face barriers to food, transportation, housing, and health care which can all affect a student’s ability to succeed in school. This grant will assist students and their family members who live in Sisters, La Pine, Prineville, Sunriver, Terrebonne, Tumalo and Jefferson County. FAN advocates based in the schools in these communities help connect students to essentials so they can thrive in school.

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“Roundhouse Foundation is a crucial partner in helping break down barriers for rural families,” said Julie N. Lyche, FAN Executive Director. “This grant is just one of the many examples of Roundhouse Foundation’s commitment to fostering economic resilience and helping students thrive. We are grateful for this support.”

The Roundhouse Foundation supports creative projects and organizations through art, environmental conservation, social services, community leadership, and education. They provide general and project support to organizations that bring creative ideas and connections to the community of Sisters, rural Oregon in general, and select international locations. The Roundhouse Foundation supports programs that prepare youth for a life of leadership, several of which are using innovative teaching techniques to pave the path for sustainability in our community and the world. With a passion for enriching lives in Central Oregon, the Roundhouse Foundation celebrates art and creativity.

Unique to Central Oregon, FAN began in 1993 and currently employs 30 advocates at 65 sites in Deschutes, Crook, and Jefferson counties. These advocates work tirelessly to help families break the cycle of poverty. The direct placement of FAN advocates within schools allows FAN to effectively reach and connect disadvantaged children and families to essential basic needs.

To learn more about the Family Access Network, please visit or call (541) 693-5675.


▶️ La Pine High School’s Timber Sports Team prepares for upcoming season

On the South West side of La Pine High School is a small clearing between the trees. And in that clearing, you’ll find the school’s Future Natural Resource Leader students hard at work. 

Now this club might not be like ones you’re thinking of. Led by their teacher, Cameron Salvitelli, the students participate in timber sports to bolster their learning physically and technically. These sports range from learning how to properly use a whipsaw to being able to identify different trees or animals. And yes, they do get to climb trees. 

“The main takeaway is hopefully they find something within the industry that they’re passionate about and within that passion, hopefully they find a career connection or even maybe a trade that they’re into that they can pursue after high school,” Salvitelli said. 

In Oregon, there are around 40 schools that have a similar program to La Pine, about 20 of them compete in timber sports competitions. Many of those schools send 15 to 30 students to compete. Last year, La Pine had nine. 

However, quality will always beat quantity, and despite facing much larger schools, La Pine placed 3rd in last year’s state competition. 

“It made me really proud,” Salvitelli said, “I’m really proud of the kids here. We have a small, tight knit community, so this year we’ve been working on getting the community more involved.”

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Sports like basketball and football have MVPs of the season, often given to the best player on any given year. For timber sports, that’s called the Logger of the Year. And last year, La Pine’s own Jaret Lorimor took home the honors as a sophomore. 

“They had these big podiums, we went up there and when we got our picture taken, it felt amazing,” Jaret said. “I’m really hoping to do really good again. I’ve been practicing every night after school; been working out here with Sav ’til dark.” 

The next timber sports season doesn’t start until the spring, but until then, Salvitelli and his team will keep working on their skills and climbing up those trees even higher. 

The team plans to hold their own competition at home by the end of February. 

▶️ Several La Pine HS students injured in Wednesday morning school bus crash

A Bend La Pine school bus hit ice and crashed with nine students on board Wednesday morning. Several students were injured.

The school bus accident occurred Wednesday morning on the Crescent Cutoff Road about halfway between Highway 97 and Highway 58.

The bus was heading west from La Pine high school toward Willamette Pass on a trip to Albany.

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“We had nine students and a teacher who were headed to a welding competition at Linn Benton Community College,” said Scott Maben, Communications Director for Bend-La Pine Schools. “On the Crescent Cutoff Road, the driver hit a patch of black ice. The bus slid off the roadway and into a steep ditch. The rear of the bus hit a tree. Shaved that tree off and then turned over onto its side.”

Maben said at least three students were injured.

Oregon State Police said seven of the children were transported to the hospital for precautionary reasons, one of whom had what was described as “a more significant non-life-threatening injury.” All were released.

Some of the students went back to classes, others spent the day with their families.

“The students on the bus did exactly what we expect them to do in a situation like this. They, within seconds, they had the rear emergency exit door open and they were able to get out of the bus quickly and safely on their own,” Maben said.

The teacher, bus driver and those students who were not injured were transported back to La Pine High School.

They were met by Superintendent Steven Cook who offered any needed support.

“We drill on bus safety at the start of the school year with all students who ride our busses,” Maben said. “These are high school students. They’ve probably been through that training a number of years now. They knew exactly what to do. We are so proud of how they responded.”

Oregon State Police are investigating the crash.

▶️ La Pine Chamber of Commerce to host grand opening of new location

The La Pine Chamber of Commerce is hosting a grand opening Friday afternoon to celebrate its new location. The Chamber moved earlier this year after the previous building’s owner put the lot up for sale.

“We’re fortunate to find a fabulous older building that was vacant for quite a while and we were able to remodel it to suit our purposes and we’re reopening with all the stuff we had in the old building,” said Ann Gawith, executive director at La Pine Chamber of Commerce.

Mayor Daniel Richer believes the celebration could help La Pine continue its growth.

“I think that it’s a great opportunity for the city’s expansion, now that we have a nicer location,” he said.

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Although the new chamber location isn’t as easy to find from Highway 97, the move allowed the mural to relocate too, with greater visibility.

“Sometimes people drive right by the mural where it used to be because it was just kind of congested out that corner,” Richer said. “Now, I think it’s a little bit better and people have an opportunity to stop and appreciate it.”

The mural was previously on the south facing wall of the old La Pine Chamber of Commerce building. In the new location, includes a bench and is freestanding.

Gawith hopes the mural will help draw people into the chamber’s office.

The celebration Friday from 3:00-6:00 p.m. The chamber says everyone is invited to celebrate, and kick off the holidays with a tree lighting, food, drinks and more.

“Come on down to La Pine and do your Christmas shopping. There are some fabulous other shops, great places to eat. Make it a day trip and come join us,” Gawith said.

▶️ MountainStar Family Relief Nursery opens new La Pine location

Vulnerable families in La Pine and south Deschutes County will soon have additional resources available to them. MountainStar Family Relief Nursery celebrated the grand opening of its newest location Monday.

“Our board of directors and the La Pine community and our staff have been working to try to figure out a way that we can make a building like this a reality,” MountainStar Executive Director Kara Tachikawa said.

The non-profit organization’s mission is to prevent child abuse and neglect through community support. It began service in La Pine back in 2016 with just one individual outreach worker.

“We work specifically with families who have children ages zero to five. And these families have a variety of stressful things happening in their lives that make raising children even more difficult than it can be anyway,” Tachikawa said.

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For parents like Iris in Bend, MountainStar services have been invaluable.

“I don’t think I could feel more accepted by a group of people in the community ever,” Iris said. “They help prepare my children for the bigger picture of life, really, not just school, but everything.”

▶️ Bend-La Pine Schools, teachers union optimistic strike will be avoided

After full day of negotiating on Monday, the Bend-La Pine School District and the Bend Educators Association (BEA) came closer to a contract agreement.

“We’re making good progress during these full day sessions. For example, on Monday we discussed eight different topics and we reached agreement on several articles and are close on several more,” school district Chief Human Resources Officer Steve Herron said. 

While some agreements have been made, negotiations over key issues are still ongoing. According to the district, the BEA’s current demands total $35.4 million with compensation being the union’s biggest request in negotiations.

The union’s current demands:

  • Pay increase of 12.26%= $16.7 million for all employees
  • An insurance cap increase= $11.8 million
  • Additional planning days and holiday pay= $3.1 million
  • Additional teachers (adding just one teacher per building)= $3.8 million 

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RELATED: Bend-La Pine district, teachers set for all-day bargaining Monday

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Union President Sarah Barclay says the issue of class size is a main priority and that adding more teachers would help reduce the number of students in classrooms. 

The district say the union’s current request would do the opposite and could lead to layoffs.

“The legislature funded schools during the pandemic. That will run out next year. So the district has already been preparing to make those reductions. If we make commitments to negotiations that exceed our budget, naturally there would have to be additional reductions,” Herron said.

When asked if these demands could backfire and actually make class sizes larger due to shorter staffing, Barclay said, “What I’ll say to that is we haven’t even talked about class size at the bargaining table yet. It’s in our proposal and we haven’t found Bend-La Pine interested in having a conversation around it.”

While there are still several articles yet to be agreed on, both sides say they are optimistic a strike will be avoided.

▶️ Redmond fire levy narrowly passing: Central Oregon election results

The following are the results of the Nov. 7 special election in Central Oregon as of 5:00 p.m. Wednesday. Keep checking back for updates.

Numbers are compiled from information posted on the Oregon Secretary of State website.

Because of mail-in voting, it will be several days before final results are known.

9-162: Redmond Fire & Rescue Levy

Yes: 5,364 (50.7%)
No: 5,208 (49.3%)

Redmond’s levy request is 75-cents per $1,000 of assessed value beginning July 1. The estimated annual cost to the owner of a home appraised at $200,000 is about $150 per year or about $12.50 per month.

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16-107: Crooked River Ranch RFPD Levy

Yes: 956 (57.6%)
No: 703 (42.4%)

The fire and rescue district is asking for a 28-cent per $1,000 of assessed value increase over their expiring levy. If off-duty staff or volunteers aren’t available to respond, Crooked River Ranch calls Redmond Fire and Rescue for mutual aid.

9-163: Ponderosa Pines East Special Road District

Yes: 45 (71.4%)
No: 18 (28.6%)

Camp Sherman Road District #18

Yes: 150 (90.9%)
No: 15 (9.1%)

Deschutes County Clerk Steve Dennison says an automatic recount will occur if the results are separated by less than one-fifth of 1%. None of the results so far are within that margin.

▶️ Redmond, Crooked River Ranch fire levies on Tuesday ballot

Tuesday’s special election has a handful of items on the ballot that impact voters in La Pine, Redmond and Crooked River Ranch.

Two of the ballot items are fire district operating levy requests that will determine if emergency response times keep up with population growth.

Central Oregon Daily News visited a burn-to-learn exercise in Redmond to learn more. Before demolishing an old home on SW Obsidian Avenue in Redmond, a developer allowed Redmond Fire and Rescue to conduct live fire training.

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While crews took turns entering the burning building to learn how to control a structure fire, Redmond Fire Chief Pat Dale explained what measure 9-162 would do if approved.

“The levy funds will be used entirely for staffing. We want to add firefighter/paramedics or first responders — same name — and address our recruitment and retention issues that we have,” Dale said.

Redmond’s levy request is 75-cents per $1,000 of assessed value beginning July 1. The estimated annual cost to the owner of a home appraised at $200,000 is about $150 per year or about $12.50 per month.

“We are trying to catch up with the growth that we’ve seen in our fire district,” Dale said. “We cover more than just the city of Redmond. We cover Cline Falls, Terrebonne and parts of Jefferson County. In the last 10 years we’ve seen a 26% increase in population. Same 10 years, a 68% increase in call volume.

It’s a similar situation in Crooked River Ranch where the fire and rescue district is asking for a 28-cent per $1,000 of assessed value increase over their expiring levy.

“Over last 10 years, we’ve seen a 36% increase in total call volume. Along with that we are seeing what we call overlapping calls where the on-duty crew is on a call already and before they’re back we are getting toned out again for another,” said Sean Hartley, Chief of Crooked River Ranch Fire & Rescue. 

If off-duty staff or volunteers aren’t available to respond, guess who Crooked River Ranch Fire calls for mutual aid? Redmond Fire and Rescue.

About 80% of calls to both fire departments are for medical emergencies prompting the need to hire more staff who are cross-trained as paramedics as well as firefighters.