Brown targets Feb. 15th return to class; districts to make final decision


Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday directed state health and education leaders to launch several new policies in the coming weeks hoping to get Oregon’s elementary school students back in class by the middle of February.

Among the requests is making the state’s current health metrics for a return to class “advisory” rather than “mandatory” beginning January 1st.

“Moving forward, the decision to resume in-person instruction must be made locally, district by district, school by school,” Brown wrote in her letter to Oregon Education Director Colt Gill and Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen.

Most Oregon students have been out of the classroom since early March when the COVID pandemic started to take hold across the United States.

Since then, school districts have grappled with distance learning efforts with varying success while parents juggled schedules and students missed out on important face-to-face interactions with teachers and friends.

“Moving forward, the decision to resume in-person instruction must be made locally, district by district, school by school.”
Gov. Kate Brown

The state dangled a carrot in front of parents this fall by releasing more lenient health metrics, but cases in Deschutes County spiked right after the announcement. 

The governor now wants Oregon school districts and counties to have the flexibility to reopen schools based on the COVID situation in their own backyard.

“In addition to schools continuing to adhere to required health and safety protocols and working in close consultation with their local public health authority in understanding and considering the metrics, teachers, school staff, parents and students should be engaged in this decision-making process to allow schools to make the best choice for their community and their students,” she said.

“Today’s announcement from Governor Brown will not help return students safely to Oregon’s classrooms – it will simply continue what has already been months of confusion and uncertainty for Oregon’s students and educators.”
– Oregon Education Association President John Larson

Redmond School District Superintendent Dr. Charan Cline welcomed Brown’s announcement.

“The Redmond School District is eager to have kids back in school as soon as it is safe to do so, and we know that studies are showing transmission of COVID-19 is rare in schools,” he said. “With Governor Brown’s revision of the public health metrics to advisory instead of mandatory, we now have the ability to start a path toward reopening our schools.”

And in a letter to parents late Wednesday, Bend-La Pine Interim Superintendent Lora Nordquist said they’ve been planning for in-person instruction for months.

“I started connecting with district and association leaders this afternoon and will continue to expand the conversation to others over the break, as we determine specific dates for our phased-in return, based on this new information,” she said.

But the state’s teacher’s union was less than thrilled with the timing of Brown’s announcement during the holidays, saying it will “only result in an increasingly disparate patchwork of return plans throughout the state’s public education system.”

President John Larson said 70,000 educators and the families of 580,000 students “now must spend the holidays trying to understand what these changes mean for their lives and livelihoods.”

“Today’s announcement from Governor Brown will not help return students safely to Oregon’s classrooms – it will simply continue what has already been months of confusion and uncertainty for Oregon’s students and educators,” he said.

Brown said the nearly $140 million in state and federal resources dedicated to school reopening “put this goal within reach for school districts if communities continue to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19 over the next several weeks.”

She shared some good news on Tuesday, sharing that the post-Thanksgiving spike many had feared did not materialize.

Local cases, although higher than they have been since the pandemic began, are once again starting to decline.

In a statement, Brown said both the Legislature and Congress have dedicated new resources for safe school reopenings in 2021, including an additional $50 million approved during Monday’s special session to support schools in the transition to in-person instruction.

In addition, the legislature also passed legislation during the special session that protects schools from COVID-related lawsuits.

“As 2021 approaches and we look to the remaining school year just over the horizon, it is clear that the greatest gift we can give to Oregon’s children this holiday season is to redouble our efforts to act responsibly and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” Brown said. “Our students’ learning, resilience, and future well-being depend on all of us.”

On Wednesday Brown said Oregon educators and child care providers would be prioritized in the next wave of COVID vaccines.

In her letter to the ODE and OHA, she directed the agencies to work with schools to “provide on-site, rapid testing as a safeguard to quickly address symptomatic individuals and those with potential exposure to COVID-19.”

Brown pointed to Washington state where “advisory metrics” have allowed more schools to reopen.

“As our neighbors to the north have demonstrated, this does not mean schools can resume in-person instruction without regard for COVID-19 spread in the community, but instead should carefully consider the metrics in their local context, the needs of students and families, and readiness to implement health and safety protocols,” she said. “As we move into a new year, we must all rise to the challenges that COVID-19 presents and prioritizing our children is most urgent.”

You can read Brown’s full letter to the ODE and OHA below.

12.23.20_Schools Letter_final

First shipment of COVID-19 vaccine arrives at St. Charles in Bend

With lots of smiles and applause, St. Charles in Bend received its first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday morning.

A FedEx truck with only one piece of cargo – a single, temperature-controlled box of 975 does – arrived just before 10:30 a.m., the hospital said in a release.

“This is a historic moment,” said Joe Sluka, president and CEO of St. Charles Heath System. “In the same year a global pandemic landed in the United States, the scientific community delivered a vaccine. It’s a remarkable achievement that gives us hope as we continue to battle this virus and try to return our world to some version of normal.”

Debra Carlson, an inventory coordinator for the hospital’s inpatient pharmacy, donned safety goggles and a special pair of thick gloves while taking the box and placing them in an ultra-cold temperature freezer capable of storing them at -70 degrees C.

“The eagle has landed,” she said into her phone upon taking delivery, calling it “such a symbol of hope and next step forward for us.”

In a news conference later Thursday, Chief Pharmacy Officer Michael Powell said everyone in the pharmacy stopped what they were doing to watch the process unfold and erupted in applause.

He called it “the beginning of the end of working through this pandemic.” 

Dr. Cynthia Maree, who is overseeing the vaccine at the hospital, said the excitement Thursday was a little like Christmas morning.

The vaccines will remain in the freezer until Monday morning when the pharmacy team will begin dethawing and diluting individual doses in preparation for administering them to the first group of caregivers at noon.

It is expected all 975 doses will be dispersed by the end of Wednesday, the hospital said.

Maree reiterated Thursday that while many of the hospital’s caregivers and staff are clamoring to be at the front of the line for the vaccine, others still aren’t sure and want more information.

The goal over the next few weeks is to educate everyone on the vaccine’s safety and benefits, Maree said.

In the meantime, St. Charles caregivers who are eligible for vaccination are receiving notifications via text and email with information about when they are scheduled to receive their first dose.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is administered in two doses 21 days apart, so only after receiving a second dose three weeks out will they be considered fully vaccinated.

The vaccine arrives on a day when St. Charles Bend has 50 inpatients with COVID-19, four of whom are in the ICU and two of whom are on a ventilator.

The health system continues to postpone some elective surgeries to free up the staff and beds needed to care for the highest-need patients.

“This year has been a difficult year for all of us, and the fight is not over yet,” said Dr. Jeff Absalon, St. Charles’ chief physician executive. “The stress on our health system continues to be very real. On Tuesday, every one of our ICU beds were full. While today is certainly one to be celebrated, we must acknowledge the difficult road still ahead of us and continue to be vigilant in halting the spread of the virus.”

He said he expects local numbers to continue to rise as post-Thanksgiving cases come to light.



Bend family rescued after SUV gets stuck in the snow near Taghum Butte

A Bend family needed Deschutes County Search and Rescue’s help Monday night after their SUV got stuck in the snow near Taghum Butte.

Dep. Joshua Westfall, the assistant search and rescue coordinator, said dispatch got a call just after 6 p.m. from a stuck motorist off 1820 Road between China Hat Road and Paulina Lake.

The caller, later identified as 48-year-old James Sipe, reported that he and two other family members had been driving on the road when they got stuck in the snow.

Sipe hiked about a half-mile to an elevated location so he could get better reception to call 911, Westfall said.

One Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Deputy and two Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue volunteers responded to help.

The DCSO SAR volunteers traveled down China Hat Rd about 12 miles to 1820 Rd where they then deployed in the DCSO SAR ARGO ATV, Westfall said.

DCSO SAR volunteers traveled about nine miles south on the 1820 Rd to Sipes’ location near Taghum Butte in the ARGO, reaching them around 8:28 p.m.

The family and their dog, who were all unharmed, and were given a ride back to Bend.

DCSO resources returned to quarters around 11:00 p.m.

The DCSO would like to remind the public to use caution when traveling on forest roads this time of year due to snowpack.

Road conditions vary significantly and roads can quickly become impassable, Westfall said.

Further, if you are traversing in these conditions be sure to bring appropriate vehicles, equipment, lighting, clothing, food, water, navigation and communication devices.



Les Schwab Amphitheater to get makeover; hopes to attract more varied lineup

Construction started Monday to renovate Bend’s Les Schwab Amphitheater, part of a project aimed at attracting more and bigger acts to the region’s signature live music venue.

The first phase of construction is expected to be finished by June next year, ahead of the concert season.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer the structural capacity necessary to host all of the amazing artists interested in making Bend a stop on their tour,” says Marney Smith, Les Schwab Amphitheater’s General Manager.

Smith said the venue had lost out on artists in the past due to stage capacity.

“Solving that challenge allows us the opportunity to provide an even broader and more varied lineup,” she said. Coupled with the planned accessibility updates, this furthers our goal to provide the best experience possible for both our guests and visiting artists.”

Phase I of construction includes “right-sizing” the amphitheater stage to attract a wider variety of touring artists, comedians and other performers, according to the Old Mill District.

The new stage will feature a minimalist design with pine accents to pay homage to Bend’s vibrant sawmill history, and is designed to minimize architectural impact as much as possible.

The stage will grow moderately larger in size with a significant increase in structural capacity, resulting in a stage height of 62 feet and an additional 1,840 square feet in total stage footprint.

Certain elements from the current stage will be upcycled and re-used in later phases, including steel beams and the custom artwork that currently adorns the back of the stage.

Accessibility enhancements begin in Phase I and will include a full Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant pathway from the ADA gate that spans the entire venue, and screens on stage.

Smith said the privately funded project allows Les Schwab Amphitheater to continue connecting Central Oregonians to live music, improving accessibility and continue bolstering the local economy with live entertainment.

Phase II of construction is expected to begin in Fall 2021, with subsequent phases in following years.

Improvements slated for future phases include re-grading the venue, box seating, the addition of semi-permanent restrooms, new permanent food and beverage options, walk-through metal detectors and more.

Accessibility improvements will continue throughout the multi-phased project, providing passive travel and equivalent seating for all abilities by project completion.

The Les Schwab Amphitheater has provided Central Oregon with nationally touring shows set against the backdrop of the brilliant Cascade Mountains and Deschutes River for the last 19 years.

COVID canceled what was shaping up to be one of LSA’s biggest summer concert seasons, axing two shows by country superstar Luke Bryan and shows from Dave Matthews Band, Vampire Weekend and Ween.

Several of the shows have already been rescheduled for next year.

According to a 2015 Visit Bend Intercept survey, the amphitheater brings in approximately $1.2 million per concert to Bend’s local economy.

DCSO: Dispute leads to Bend man shooting his adult son at homeless camp

A Bend man was arrested Friday morning after allegedly shooting his adult son during an argument at a homeless camp, according to the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office.

Sgt. Jayson Janes said deputies responded to a camp off China Hat Road after a reported shooting around 11 a.m.

The caller said 57-year-old Dwanye Dittmer shot his adult son.

Deputies responded to the area and talked to the people involved, Janes said.

The victim, a 21-year-old man, was taken to St. Charles in Bend with non-life-threatening injuries.

Detectives ended up serving a search warrant on the trailer where the alleged shooting took place, Janes said.

Based on statements made by the victim, witnesses, and evidence seized at the location, Dittmer was arrested and taken to the Deschutes County Jail and charged with felon in possession of a firearm and negligently wounding another.

The Sheriff’s Office was assisted at the scene by the Oregon State Police, US Forest Service Law Enforcement, and Bend Fire and Rescue.

This is still an active investigation.

Valley officers shoot, kill Bend man after 2 armed robberies, high-speed chase

A Bend man suspected of two armed robberies and leading authorities on a high-speed chase over Santiam Pass Tuesday night was shot and killed by officers near Gates, according to the Linn County Sheriff’s Office.

The shooting happened around 11:45 p.m. on Highway 22 outside of Gates.

A deputy with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office and three Oregon State Police troopers involved in the shooting were not injured.

The wild night for authorities started in Bend around 10:15 when police responded to armed robberies at Dutch Bros. on SE 3rd street and at Domino’s on SE Yew Avenue.

Bend Police Lt. Juli McConkey said the suspect, later identified as 27-year-old Brad Masters, walked up to the Dutch Bros drive-thru window, showed a gun and demanded money before running away.

Masters then went into the Domino’s, showed the gun, demanded money and stole a car from an employee.

A Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office deputy was on the Bend Parkway nearby and saw the stolen car driving south and speeding.

The deputy tried to stop the car but lost it in the area of Romaine Village.

Mugshot from July 2020

As a perimeter was being set up in the area, another deputy watching Highway 20 just west of Tumalo spotted the stolen car pass by him going between 90 and 100 mph, McConkey said.

The deputy was able to catch up to the car and tried to pull it over, but Masters kept going west on Highway 20 where the deputy stopped the chase as he got close to Sisters.

A Black Butte Police Officer east of Sisters set up spike strips, but Masters was able to drive around them.

Once the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Deputy was west of Sisters, he resumed the chase until he reached the county line.

McConkey said the deputy was alone at the time so he decided to end the pursuit.

A short time later, deputies from Linn County and Oregon State Troopers spotted Masters on Highway 22.

Oregon State Police Troopers and a Linn County deputy took over the pursuit until the car was finally stopped with spike strips near Gates.

Once stopped, Masters got out of the car, a confrontation ensued, and three troopers and a Linn County deputy fired shots, according to Lt. Treven Upkes with the Salem Police Department

The involved law enforcement officers are Oregon State Police Troopers Caleb Yoder, Michael Iacob, and Joseph Sousa, who have been with the Oregon State Police five years and 10 months, four years and 11 months, and three years and 10 months respectively.

The Linn County Deputy Sheriff involved was Brandon Rathelegurche, who has been with Linn County Sheriff’s Office for two years and 10 months.

Each officer has been placed on administrative leave per their respective agency’s policies.

The shooting happened in Marion County and the Salem Police Department is conducting the investigation.

The Bend Police continue to work with the various agencies on the investigation.

Masters has a lengthy criminal record dating back at least to 2010 for various crimes including computer crimes, theft, identity theft, forgery, speeding, and criminal mischief.

Bend man shot near Drake Park charged with burglary, robbery

A man shot and injured at a home near Drake Park last month was arrested Thursday on burglary and robbery charges.

Officers were called to a reported shooting at a home in the 600 block of Riverfront Street on the afternoon of November 19th.

Bend Police Lt. Adam Juhnke said investigators determined 27-year-old Jordan Thorn had gone to the home of 28-year-old Marshall Rogers for an unknown reason.

Police still have not disclosed the relationship between the two men.

After a brief contact between the two men, police say Rogers shot Thorn at the front door of the home.

After being shot, Thorn drove from the scene but stopped within a block where citizens and responding officers helped him, Juhnke said.

Thorn was found on Riverside Blvd., where he received medical attention for a gunshot wound to his lower abdomen and left arm.

Rogers remained on scene and cooperated with investigators. He has not been charged.

After executing a search warrant, conducting interviews, and examining the evidence, investigators determined Thorn is suspected of committing burglary and robbery against Rogers and another person in the home, Juhnke said.

Thorn was contacted at a local business Thursday and charged with first-degree burglary, first-degree robbery, and unlawful use of a weapon.

Thorn is still recovering from his injuries and was not taken to jail, Juhnke said.


Bend man sentenced to 7 years in federal prison on child porn charges

A Bend man was sentenced Thursday to more than seven years in federal prison for possessing and distributing child pornography, chatting online about having sex with minors, and engaging in a campaign of online harassment and threats, the US Attorney’s Office said.

Pierce Matthew Morrow, 25, will also serve ten years’ supervised release.

“The pursuit of individuals who post sexual images of children online is one of our highest priorities”, said U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams. “There was significant emotional harm inflicted by this defendant on the people he pursued, harassed and impersonated and the children whose images he posted online.”

According to court documents, between July 2017 to January 2018, Morrow participated in the “Kid Porn Trade” Kik group, whose members posted images, videos and links containing child pornography.

Morrow started Kik and Grindr chats by sharing an image of a 12-16-year-old nude boy – who Morrow sometimes pretended to be in order to bait the other person, Williams said.

Using his knowledge of his peers from growing up in Bend, Morrow harassed multiple people online, sometimes managing to acquire nude images of them and making threats to obtain more.

Morrow openly assumed the identity of another person in making online threats, resulting in a victim believing that person, not Morrow, was harassing them.

Morrow’s victims made reports and complaints to the police and to social media providers about the continuous threatening messages.

Morrow skillfully inflicted harm on others, preying on young men’s fears and vulnerabilities, embarrassing them, threatening them, exposing and hurting them, Williams said.

In a January 2018 chat between Morrow and a young man, Morrow sent unsolicited images of child pornography and encouraged the other man to consider sex with children.

Morrow mixed child pornography with online stalking, solicitation and enticement of others with similar interests.

In July, Morrow was charged with distributing child pornography, and in September he pleaded guilty to the charge.

“This case is disturbing. Morrow’s relentless, aggressive, and threatening behavior toward his victims – locally and in other parts of the country – shows the depths to which he would go to hurt others,” said Renn Cannon, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon. “If you are a victim of a sexual predator or sextortion scheme, please reach out to us. We want to help you and protect other potential victims.”


Bend man sentenced for breaking baby’s bones

A former hospital worker was sentenced this week to three years probation after pleading guilty to abusing his infant son.

Charles P. Medley was arrested on child abuse charges in April after his 15-month-old son arrived at St. Charles with injuries that included skull and leg fractures and a brain bleed.

He said during sentencing he was stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic when hurt his son.

Medley was initially charged with first-degree aggravated assault, two counts of third-degree assault and three counts of first-degree criminal mistreatment.

He pleaded guilty this week to three counts of first-degree criminal mistreatment.

His probation includes conditions that he attend parenting and aggression control classes. Violating the conditions could result in a four-year prison sentence.

Medley had no prior criminal record, which attorneys said factored into the sentencing recommendation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

2 indicted in separate Bend child abuse cases; suspected of injuring infants

Two Bend residents have been indicted on separate child abuse charges, suspected of causing injuries to their infant children.

In March, Bend Police officers and detectives were called to a local pediatrics office regarding injuries – including a broken bone – to a 9-month-old girl.

Lt. Adam Juhnke said the injuries were classified as “non-accidental trauma” by medical staff and reported to law enforcement.

After a lengthy investigation, which included a search of the family’s home on NE Watt Way in Bend, detectives determined the father, Nicholas Jeremy Flores, caused the injuries, Juhnke said.

The investigation was conducted in collaboration with The Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office, community partners in the medical field, The Kids Center and the Department of Human Services.

On Nov. 3, a Deschutes County Grand Jury indicted Flores on one count of first-degree criminal mistreatment and one count of third-degree assault.

In a separate case, 33-year-old Kristine Anne Bellinger of Bend was indicted on Oct. 30th on the same charges for allegedly injuring her 6-month-old son, police said.

On April 24th last year Bend Police officers and investigators were called to St. Charles regarding injuries to a 6-month-old infant which included suspicious fractures.

The injuries were classified as non-accidental trauma and required to be reported to law enforcement, Juhnke said.

After a lengthy investigation, including serving search warrants at Bellinger’s home and vehicle on NE Forum Drive, it was determined that Bellinger caused the injuries to her son, Juhnke said.

“The Bend Police Department conducted a top-notch investigation and were aided as always by our dedicated partners at the Kids Center and DHS,” said Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel. “Investigating and prosecuting crimes against children will always be the top priority of my office; it’s comforting to know that the Bend Police Department is staffed with officers who care as much as I do about holding accountable people who abuse kids.”