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Clinton Street road rager found guilty except for insanity

Posted by on April 9th, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Eschweiler in the courtroom today.
(Photos © Elly Blue)

At the Multnomah County Courthouse today, Johnny Eschweiler waived his right to a trial by jury and was found guilty except for insanity on two counts of assault for using his motor vehicle as a weapon in an August, 2007 road rage incident.

Eschweiler was committed to the jurisdiction of the Psychiatric Security Review Board for a maximum of fifteen years. He will be allowed to continue to live in the community under a strict set of conditions, including highly structured psychiatric care, a curfew, and the stipulation that he not in any circumstance operate a motor vehicle.

“A vehicle is a weapon. You are not to have control of a motor vehicle.”
–Judge Michael McShane, Multnomah County

Judge McShane outlined the conditions clearly, which also included having no contact with victims and at no time possessing any weapons, “including a vehicle. A vehicle is a weapon. You are not to have control of a motor vehicle.”

The charges — one count of assault in the second degree for running down Ben Ramsdell, and one count of assault in the third degree for subsequently hitting Timothy Mastne who happened to be riding nearby — were part of a bargain struck in an attempt to ensure Eschweiler receives care appropriate to his psychiatric condition rather than being convicted to a mandatory prison sentence, according to Ramsdell’s lawyer, Mark Ginsberg.

Story continues below


The agreement consisted of Eschweiler waiving his right to a trial by jury and accepting a decision by Judge McShane based on the evidence submitted in the case, including police and detective reports stemming from the incident, and a mental health evaluation.

Ben Ramsdell was run down
by Eschweiler.

The Judge read a summary of the mental health evaluation. It included a history of aggression, seizures, and assaults following an illness at age five; foster care and commitment to mental health facilities as a teenager; and a guilty except for insanity verdict in an incident around age 23 in which Eschweiler stabbed somebody with a fork.

At age 25 Eschweiler underwent a temporal lobotomy which entailed removing part of his brain. This procedure impaired his cognitive abilities, particularly short term memory and decision making capacity, but put a temporary end to his seizures and aggressive behavior until a fall nearly 20 years later, in 2000, caused a recurrence of these problems.

According to the report, he is now on medication to control his seizures. He is employed, married, and spends time with his grandkids. He has no criminal history since the stabbing incident 25 years ago.

In his ruling, Judge McShane concluded that Eschweiler’s brain dysfunction did affect him at the time of these crimes and that he “lacked capacity to understand the criminality of his acts and conform his actions to the law.”

“I expected today to be like a sigh of relief. But really, it feels like the first full breath I’ve taken in almost two years.”
— Ben Ramsdell

McShane told Eschweiler, “I cannot emphasize this enough. You are not to drive a motor vehicle. You don’t have the capacity to make the kinds of decisions drivers have to make all the time, at every intersection.”

Any evidence of violation of these conditions, particularly the one that prohibits him driving, will result in Eschweiler being immediately taken into custody.

Eschweiler, who held a valid drivers license at the time of this incident, sat quietly through the proceedings and declined to make a statement.

Ben Ramsdell, the first victim, who Eschweiler hit with apparent intention after Ramsdell confronted him over buzzing him too closely, made a brief statement about his difficulties making a full physical and emotional recovery. “I expected today to be like a sigh of relief. But really, it feels like the first full breath I’ve taken in almost two years,” he said.

— For more background on this story, browse our previous coverage.

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  • DJ Hurricane April 9, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    “A vehicle is a weapon.”
    –Judge Michael McShane, Multnomah County

    Yes, it is. And drivers need to know that they are going to be confronted, one way or another, when they use their vehicles as weapons.

    Any comment from the DMV on why this guy was not denied a driver license?

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  • Kt April 9, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    So…. What does the DMV do, again?

    How did this guy get a license? How did he keep it?

    It’s been years since I got my license, does anyone know if the DMV ask medical questions before granting a license?

    There has got to be a better way to keep people like this away from the driver’s seat!

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  • Lazlo April 9, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    “And drivers need to know that they are going to be confronted, one way or another, when they use their vehicles as weapons.”

    Actually, the lesson I take from this is not to confront motorists, because you never know how they’ll react. Obviously this guy shouldn’t have been allowed to drive in the first place, but the victims would have had little more than a close brush had the driver not been confronted. Not blaming the victims, just saying that you never know how a situation might escalate.

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  • WillJongIll April 9, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    from, “Eshweiler has a history of mental illness. At 19, records show he stabbed a co-worker in the face with a fork. At 23, surgeons had to remove part of his brain.”

    Thankfully no one was seriously injured. I think this is a fair judgment, the guy is clearly bonkers.

    I would feel differently if it was a car lot manager driving a new hummer…

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  • WillJongIll April 9, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    correction: when I say car lot manager and hummer I mean any non-crazy person being a dangerous asshole as opposed to someone who is looney tunes.

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  • Hart April 9, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    Thankfully no one was seriously injured. I think this is a fair judgment, the guy is clearly bonkers.

    I would say being forced to undergo a frontal lobotomy is a serious life long injury.

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  • steve April 9, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    One must ponder the efficacy of bike boxes, bike lanes, and other cycling infrastructure when confronted by the monumental idiocy of our state issuing driving privileges to people who have undergone a partial lobotomy.

    Let alone the horrific surprise that Oregon deems it reasonable to hand a license to someone who has been found guilty but insane, after having stabbed someone in the face with a fork.

    Be safe out there.

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  • Krampus April 9, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    All that crazy, life threatening driving and he spends not a single day in prison. HOW AWESOME!


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  • Pete April 9, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    So if he’s now denied a driver’s license, how will he get around? By bicycle? Oh, the irony… the (bike) shoe on the other foot…

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  • Opus the Poet April 9, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    I agree the DMV seriously dropped the ball on this one, and about 1/3 of all the rest of the drivers out there. It should be as hard to get a driver’s license as a concealed carry permit because the cost of a mistake in issuance is worse with the driver’s license than the concealed carry permit. According to the NHTSA a motor vehicle is 5 to 10 times more deadly than a .44 Magnum depending on the speed at impact. Well they don’t actually make that comparison, they just say that as speed increases above 30 MPH a motor vehicle goes from 80% fatal against cyclists and pedestrians to near 100% as speeds exceed 60 MPH. Published fatality rates for the .44 Magnum give it a 11% fatality ratio when the bullet actually hits a human, but you have to understand that what would be a flesh wound from a .44 is a near certain fatality with a motor vehicle. Hitting an arm or leg and missing major arteries with a gun is a very survivable injury, not so much with a motor vehicle, where hitting an arm or leg is just the first impact most of the time, and even if the victim is lucky enough to not get sicked into a major torso impact there can be enough damage on the impacted limb to cause a lingering death.

    And on that pleasant note, good night and sweet dreams.

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  • Joe Rowe April 9, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    This mentally insane person is NOT going to understand any court ordered restrictions. He’ll be driving again in a few weeks, and if caught put in a very expensive prison.

    Why, because he could not even understand the crime at the time, nor even in court. quote: ““lacked capacity to understand the criminality of his acts and conform his actions to the law.””

    The most cost effective solution would use taxpayer money to keep him in a low security housing complex for the rest of his life. Curfew, monitored medication, GPS ankle monitor, etc, including employment support with salary deductions to pay for the victims and taxpayer’s costs.

    This lunatic will strike again and again claim he did not understand, at which point taxpayers will again pay far more than the cost of low security detainment I’ve suggested.

    pay a bit now, or pay a lot more later.

    It’s interesting to note most of these insane mass murders obtian their machine guns and drivers licenses in a fully legal manner.

    We need lawmakers to stop being cowardly and know that keeping guns and cars out of the hands of criminals and unstable people is not as the NRA would say, a violation of the constitution.

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  • Hart April 9, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    It’s a good thing we still throw pot smokers in jail for twenty years.

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  • Hart April 10, 2009 at 3:34 am

    Amazing how the New Jersey Star Ledger’s website looks and sounds just like the site. You can even use the same ID and password to log in:

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  • Del Duncan April 10, 2009 at 9:32 am

    So I absolutely agree that this guy, and many others, have no business having a car and a license to start with. However, he’s clearly mentally ill and should be on some kind of state support, etc.

    Calling him a lunatic or calling for him to be in prison is certainly insensitive to his plight. I’m not condoning his actiosn at all but this this is more of a systemic problem how society deals with the mentally ill.

    I speak from experience as I have an adult daughter who is severely mentally ill. Luckily she is well taken care of but there’s still situations where she could get out and hurt someone. I live in fear every day of exactly something like this happening and then her spending the rest of her life in jail instead of a supported grouphome situation.

    There are no simple, single-dimensional answers, folks.

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  • Donna April 10, 2009 at 9:47 am

    I’d love to see some of these collision victims sue the State of Oregon because they clearly hand out licenses to anyone with a pulse and hasn’t driven drunk in a while.

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  • John Peterson April 10, 2009 at 9:49 am

    You gotta love that courtroom shot of Eschweiler though…a total ringer for sadam hussein.

    Um but anyways we gotta make getting the DL harder for everyone… more testing, higher age, more screening for crazies, mandatory retesting for oldsters….

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  • Paul Tay April 10, 2009 at 9:54 am

    The Judge: “….He not in any circumstance operate a motor vehicle.”

    Shouldn’t this be mandatory sentence for anyone convicted of using a motor vehicle as a weapon, DUI, or reckless driving?

    Johnny Eschweiler, PDX newest bikey! Bienvenidos. NOT.

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  • yo! April 10, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Mental illness can show itself in very different ways and in differing degrees of severity. I believe Eschweiler was holding a steady job as a janitor at St. Mary’s School and had gone without incident for 20 years. He showed all outward signs of stability. Perhaps the DMV dropped the ball, but probably not. It seems to me that society sees driving as a right for everybody (even my grandfather who, with very impaired vision and hearing, should not have had his license renewed at age 90) regardless of the great responsibility that comes with operating a motor vehicle. I am all for making licenses harder to obtain but that needs to be a widely voiced opinion for things to change.

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  • Joe Rowe April 10, 2009 at 10:13 am


    Even the staff at the Oregonian hate their own website because it is forced upon them by their parent company, who happens to also own the same lame web hosting company.

    For many dying newspapers their website is their only lifeboat. For the Oregonian, it is a cement block tied to their sinking ship. It lacks any sections ( sports, etc ) and like an amateur blog, mixes news and opinion together ( a crime in professional journalism )

    Many high school newspapers are far better:

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  • Jordan April 10, 2009 at 10:40 am

    To Hart:

    I read that NJ article and scrolled down through the comments and found this gem.

    “LESS LAW IS BETTER. The Lord did it with 10 commandments, enough laws already.”

    I think the Lord needs to issue a bicycle clause to his commandments so everyone will understand safety issues.

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  • Hart April 10, 2009 at 10:59 am

    Very true about the parent company website junk. Strange how the ‘one size fits all’ corporate media strategy seems to have the same failure rate as the ‘one size fits all’ public mental health strategy of lobotomizing kids into a lifelong walking coma.

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  • […] to the legally crazy person first. Clinton Street road rager found guilty except for insanity What I don’t understand is why they ever let this guy have a license in the first place, […]

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  • Hart April 10, 2009 at 11:47 am

    I liked the guy who commented on the article who said: If you can’t judge how far three feet is you have no business driving an automobile.

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  • Paul Tay April 10, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    According to the AAA, over 42,000 Americans die EVERY year. Two EVERY day, in both Oklahoma and Oregon.

    We wouldn’t tolerate a fully loaded 747, crashing and killing everyone every two days, every year, year-in-year.

    But, hey, if its a car death, what do we do? Bail out GM!

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  • Mr DeJerk April 10, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    “A vehicle is a weapon. You are not to have control of a motor vehicle.”
    –Judge Michael McShane, Multnomah County
    Good ruling. Now, the fact that Mr McShane acknowledged the fact that “A vehicle is a weapon”, should be a good precedent for future cases.

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  • Lauten April 10, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    The thing that makes me smile about this ruling is that a bike would be a good answer to Mr Eschweiler’s transortation needs. I think that would be very enlightning for him. Although I guess I worry what he would do if a car got to close to him.

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  • Newton April 21, 2009 at 6:41 am

    “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

    I like how everyone is ignoring the cyclists responsibility in all this. If he hadn’t enticed the driver by kicking the car none of this would have happened.

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  • Chris June 19, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Perhaps this is too ideal of an outcome, but I would love to see the defendant, who is no longer allowed to drive a car, become a cyclist. There is an electric bike store in Hood River that has begun marketing their transportation alternative to people convicted of DUI. Perhaps we can get an update down the road. Thanks for following this verdict!

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