Opinion: Portland held hostage by motor vehicle menace

One of 10 deaths in the past three weeks.

Another person was killed in a collision involving an automobile user just after midnight this morning. It was the 20th 24th fatality on Portland roads so far this year and the 10th in just the last three weeks.

Portland Police say the latest tragedy occurred on Southeast Powell Blvd east of 50th. In a statement they wrote that,

“Preliminary information learned from the investigation suggests the pedestrian crossed southbound over Southeast Powell Boulevard east of Southeast 50th Avenue and was struck by a vehicle. The pedestrian reportedly made an unexpected movement in front of an oncoming vehicle while crossing… The pedestrian was not in a cross-walk at the time of the collision. The driver of the vehicle remained at the scene, contacted 9-1-1 to report the crash and is cooperating with the investigation. At this time it does not appear the driver of the vehicle was impaired while driving.”

While the PPB includes a boilerplate paragraph about Vision Zero in all their traffic crash statements these days, the statement fails to live up to the spirit of that goal.

A city committed to zero traffic deaths by 2025 should not publish blame-oriented statements about a traffic crash so soon after it happens. Especially when the victim is a vulnerable road user. That type of tone and framing is speculative, unnecessary, and makes the culture change we need much harder to accomplish.

Beyond this death on Powell, it’s clear that Portland isn’t doing enough — fast enough — to achieve Vision Zero.

PBOT’s ‘High Crash Network’ is basically every major street in the city.

The Bureau of Transportation is working hard, evidenced by yesterday’s City Council support for their impressive list of 105 “Vision Zero projects.” But those projects won’t be built fast enough.

The Portland Police Bureau is working hard, evidenced by their focused enforcements missions, support of Vision Zero and partnerships with PBOT. But it’s not enough.

Activists are working hard, evidenced by rallies in the streets and lobbying to give Vision Zero more political and policy heft. But it’s not enough.

The inconvenient truth is that the scale of the threat we face is growing much more quickly than our efforts to stop it.

The motor vehicle menace is out of control. That’s not a “bike advocate” talking, that’s just an acknowledgment of reality. Large steel vehicles and people inside them imbued with a feeling of invincibility fueled by a pervasive culture of selfishness and speed mixed with a systemic acceptance of its consequences has led to nothing short of chaos in our streets.

I have a good perspective on this issue because I regularly walk, bike, and drive. I also follow police alerts from around the region very closely, constantly scanning them in case they involve a bicycle rider. That means I’m much more aware of the daily insanity taking place on our streets than most people — and it’s why I’m so outraged by it.

Here’s a sampling of what I’ve seen in my inbox in just past few weeks (taken directly from PPB statements, emphases mine):

June 26th

…the Portland Police Bureau’s Traffic Division conducted a mission aimed at the street racers that congregate on Marine Drive and perform illegal races and other stunts out in public.

On Sunday night, officers in the area of North Marine Drive and Ledbetter Street witnessed individuals racing and driving recklessly. Officers came into the area and were able to stop several drivers and issue a total of nine citations covering 27 different charges. Two drivers were arrested on 15 separate charges. A motorcycle rider sped away from officers, crashed, and ran away on foot. That driver was not located.

June 27th

… North Precinct officers attempted to stop a driver for a traffic infraction in the area of North Vancouver Way and Middlefield Road. The driver stopped near Jubitz Truckstop, but as officers exited their patrol vehicle, the driver sped away towards I-5.

Officers pursuing the driver attempted a Pursuit Intervention Technique (PIT) on I-5 northbound approaching Hayden Island but were unsuccessful. During a second attempt, the driver rammed into the patrol car, resulting in the driver losing control of the vehicle and crashing into a jersey barrier.

The driver got out of the vehicle and was taken into custody without incident. A 47-year-old female passenger suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was transported by ambulance to a Portland hospital for treatment. Neither officer suffered injuries that required immediate medical treatment.

… East Precinct officers responded to the report of a single vehicle crash at Southeast 68th Avenue and Duke Street. 9-1-1 callers reported that a driver crashed into a power pole causing significant damage and that the suspect was attempting to drive away… The driver, 38-year-old Aaron Dennehy, was booked into the Multnomah County Jail on charges of Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII), Reckless Driving, and Failure to Perform the Duties of a Driver (Hit and Run).


June 28th

Portland Police Bureau officers arrested the driver of a stolen car after she rammed into a patrol car to evade capture. Two others in the vehicle were arrested on unrelated warrants.

… As officers approached the driver’s side of the vehicle, the driver put the car into gear. Officers discharged pepper spray into the vehicle, but the driver was able to ram her way past an unoccupied police car, and sped away northbound on 10th Avenue. Officers could see that the vehicle was occupied by the female driver and several male passengers.

… Investigators have learned that a 29-year-old female was driving a silver 2001 Mercedes 500 westbound on Columbia Boulevard and initiated a left turn across the eastbound lanes of traffic.

A 29-year-old female was driving a gray 2001 BMW 330 eastbound on Columbia Boulevard at the time the driver of the Mercedes turned across the lanes of traffic. The driver of the BMW collided with the passenger side of the Mercedes. In the Mercedes were two passengers, a 22-year-old male and a 23-year-old male, both of whom were killed in the crash… Preliminary indications are that the driver of the Mercedes was impaired by alcohol while the driver of the BMW was driving with a suspended license.

June 29th

Drunk Driver Crashes into TriMet Bus Shelter on Powell Boulevard… an East Precinct officer responding to an emergency call was driving on Southeast Powell Bouelvard near Southeast 50th Avenue when the officer saw the driver of a white truck driving at a high rate of speed eastbound on Powell Boulevard. The officer saw the driver crash into a TriMet bus shelter and concrete barrier.

The driver got out of the vehicle and started walking away from the crash, along with a passenger who also got out of the vehicle.

Officers stopped the driver and determined that he was impaired by alcohol. The driver, 28-year-old Andrew McLaughlin, was arrested and booked into the Multnomah County Jail on charges of Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII), Reckless Driving, Recklessly Endangering Another Person, Failure to Perform the Duties of a Driver (Hit and Run), and Criminal Mischief in the Second Degree (two counts).

June 30th

Major Crash Team Responding to Fatal Crash on Marine Drive

… Tomlinson, driving a 2005 Jeep Cherokee, began turning westbound on Marine Drive from 148th Avenue when he was struck by 69-year-old Richard Ramsay of La Pine, Oregon, driving a 2015 Max Semi tractor trailer. Ramsay was driving eastbound on Marine Drive. Tomlinson’s vehicle crashed over the embankment on the northside of Marine Drive and came to rest on the bike path. Good Samaritan’s pulled Tomlinson from the vehicle and attempted CPR but their efforts were not successful.

After colliding with Tomlinson’s vehicle, Ramsay had a slower speed collision with a 2013 Audi Q7 being driven westbound on Marine Drive. Neither Ramsay nor the other driver were injured in the crash.

July 1st

…East Precinct officers responded to the report that a pedestrian was struck by a driver on Southeast 122nd Avenue near Liebe Street… The victim was transported to a Portland hospital with traumatic, life-threatening injuries (victim died in the hospital).

The driver did not stop at the scene and continued traveling northbound on 122nd Avenue. Officers located the vehicle in the area of Southeast 140th Avenue and Holgate. Two people associated with the van have been detained. The driver, 35-year-old Fernando Cuevas Jr. of Vancouver, Washington, was arrested and booked into the Multnomah County Jail on charges of Failure to Perform the Duties of a Driver (Hit and Run) and Recklessly Endangering Another Person.

July 3rd

Two Officers Receive Minor Injuries in Hit and Run Traffic Crash

… two East Precinct officers working in a partner car were driving eastbound on Southeast Flavel Street at 72nd Avenue… As they crossed through the intersection with a green light, they were struck on the driver’s side by another vehicle that was being driven southbound on 72nd Avenue though a red light. The marked police car came to rest on the sidewalk, south of the intersection. The other driver’s car came to rest in the street just south of the intersection.

The two occupants of the vehicle, both females, got out of the car and ran southbound on 72nd Avenue but were contacted and detained by a third officer who was also responding to the call on 82nd Avenue… Following the crash investigation, the driver of the other car, 24-year-old Laquonda Fuller-Hudson, was issued traffic citations for Failure to Perform the Duties of a Driver (Hit and Run) and Reckless Driving.

Fatal Crash on Southeast 96th Avenue

Officers and medical personnel arrived and learned that a driver crashed into an unoccupied parked car and was ejected from the vehicle. Medical efforts to save the driver were not successful and he died at the scene… Traffic investigators learned that Wescott was driving northbound on 96th Avenue from Division Street at a high rate of speed, swerving and spinning his tires. Just prior to the crash, Wescott made a sweeping turn towards the east curb line and struck a parked 1980 Volvo. Wescott was ejected and died while his passenger, 44-year-old Mary Ann Heuer, suffered a non-life-threatening ankle injury.

Fatal Crash Investigation Underway on Airport Way

… North Precinct officers responded to the report of a traffic crash involving a driver striking a tree in the 13000 block of Northeast Airport Way.

Officers and medical personnel arrived to find the crash scene and one person deceased outside the vehicle. Officers learned that the deceased was a passenger in the vehicle and was pulled out by passersby due to the vehicle being on fire. A Good Samaritan extinguished the fire and others attempted CPR on the passenger but were unsuccessful.

Traffic investigators learned that Burton was driving westbound on Airport Way and failed to follow the curvature of the roadway, striking a tree in a center island of the roadway.

Pedestrian Critically Injured in Crash on Southeast 122nd Avenue

… The pedestrian critically injured in last night’s crash died shortly after arriving at the hospital for treatment. He’s been identified as a 23-year-old male.

The involved driver, 55-year-old Eric Sebastian Oman, was arrested and booked for Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII).

Traffic investigators learned that the 23-year-old male was with friends and was exhibiting strange, paranoid behavior just prior to the crash – behavior consistent with either a mental health crisis or drug psychosis, both of which is not normal for the young man according to friends… Friends attempted to restrain the 23-year-old man as he tried to run into traffic but he broke free and ran into the path of Oman’s truck, where he was struck and eventually died as a result of his injuries.

July 4th

Bicycle Rider Seriously Injured in Crash in Northeast Portland’s Cully Neighborhood

The bicycle rider … remains in a Portland hospital with serious injuries.

Investigators learned that Benton was driving eastbound on Killingsworth Street in a 2004 Honda Accord. As Benton was entering the intersection with Cully Boulevard, he collided with Canche-Mukel who was riding his bicycle northbound through the intersection.

July 7th

Drunk Driver Arrested After Crashing onto MAX Platform, Injuring One Person

East Precinct officers responded to the report that a driver crashed into a pedestrian at Southeast 122nd Avenue and Burnside Street and that the driver fled the scene.

Officers followed a debris trail from the scene and located the suspect and vehicle a few blocks away from the crash location. Traffic officers determined that the suspect was turning east from southbound 122nd Avenue and drove onto the MAX platform, injuring Olson, before driving away from the scene. Through the investigation, officers determined that the suspect was impaired by alcohol.

July 11th

Hawthorne Boulevard Closed 20th to 24th Due to Multiple Injury Crash

Central Precinct and Traffic Division officers responded to the report of a crash involving three vehicles on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard and Southeast 22nd Avenue.

Officers and medical personnel arrived and determined at least one person had potentially life-threatening injuries and other persons involved received serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

July 13th

Fatal Crash in Lloyd District

North Precinct officers responded to the report of a traffic crash involving a driver striking a pole near the intersection of North Broadway and North Benton Avenue.

Officers and medical personnel arrived to find the crash scene and one person in the crashed vehicle. Fire and medical personnel extracted the driver from the vehicle in order to render him medical aid; however, the driver died at the scene.

speed is believed to be a factor.

This is utter madness. All this irresponsible, incredibly selfish and dangerous behavior. All these lives ended. All these lives changed forever. All in just three weeks.

Our inability to moderate our use of motor vehicles is wreaking havoc on our daily lives. What’s not captured here are all the people held hostage by our auto-centric city — those who are too afraid to use our streets they way want to. The way they need to. Those who sit in traffic on buses stalled by too many cars on the road. Those who breath the toxic fumes emitted from our engines. Those who constantly worry about friends and family being in one of these police statements.

And these are only the incidents reported by the Portland Police Bureau. There are numerous other serious traffic crashes that never make it into the news.

How would our city respond to any other issue that resulted in this much chaos, fear, injury, and death?

How are PBOT Commissioner Dan Saltzman, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, ODOT Director Matt Garrett, and other leaders reacting to all this? Are they doing enough?


How are The Street Trust, Oregon Walks, AAA Oregon, Oregon Trucking Association, and other transportation advocacy organizations reacting to this? Are they doing enough?


Are we all doing enough?


The game has changed. The motor vehicle menace is getting worse much faster than our ability to mitigate it. We must use new approaches. Stronger regulation of motor vehicles (a.k.a. “car control”), more carfree spaces in our city, more protection for vulnerable road users, more modern street designs, and more aggressive measures are needed. ASAP.

And please don’t tell me about politics. This is about people. We can either make a city that works well for cars or for people. Not both. The choice is ours.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

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