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A fatal crash on North Willamette was fueled by reckless and drunk driving

Posted by on November 27th, 2018 at 12:59 pm

Just a few yards beyond this sign is where Calum Breitenberg lost control of his car and killed someone.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Just after 11:00 pm on November 15th, 23-year-old Calum Breitenberg got into his Volvo sedan and drove northwest on Willamette Boulevard toward St. Johns. He had been drinking. A lot.

Red “X” marks where Breitenberg and his car left the roadway and came to a stop.

As he approached North Burr Avenue, witnesses say Breitenberg was in the wrong lane going an estimated 80 mph in the 30 mph zone. As the road curved just after Burr Ave., Breitenberg lost control, swerved into a parked car, then careened up onto the sidewalk before finally coming to a stop near a utility pole at the intersection of Willamette and Buchanan — nearly 300 feet from where he left the roadway.

According to court documents filed by Multnomah County, Breitenberg was going so fast that his car cut down a tree and completely dislodged a 300-pound landscaping boulder.

Jason Barns, 32, was standing somewhere near the sidewalk on that same block. Police say he was looking through for bottles and cans in recycling containers when Breitenberg struck him. Barns died from his injuries at a nearby hospital shortly thereafter.

Breitenberg told a responding officer he’d been drinking with friends and “got smashed.” “I’m too drunk to be driving,” he admitted at the scene.

Breitenberg now faces three charges: Manslaughter in the Second Degree (a Class B felony), Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants, and Reckless Driving (both Class A misdemeanors).

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I rode by the scene last week. You could easily see the marks on the sidewalk from Breitenberg’s tires — right behind one of those popular reds signs that read, “Drive Like Your Kids Live Here”.
A stuffed teddy bear wearing a hi-viz safety vest is now draped over the sign. There are flowers too. The bear is holding another sign that’s been written on by Barns’ family and friends.

*Marks in the grass and on the sidewalk show the path of Breitenberg’s tires.

*Two memorials have been erected.

One of them named Justin wrote: “There are no words as can express the sadness and pain in my heart since I learned you were gone. I will always remember you as a fucking awesome person and a loyal friend and you’ll always be alive in my memory.”

Further north at the corner of Buchanan a sign posted on the utility pole reads, “Jason Barns Memorial” and there are candles, flowers, and a painted rock with the date inscribed on it.

Willamette Blvd in this section is a neighborhood collector street that has gotten much busier over the years as more people moved to the St. Johns area for more affordable housing (but still drive to their jobs in other parts of town) and as infill development has taken root. Because there are so few through streets in this part of Portland (the busy state arterial of North Lombard being the other) Willamette Blvd has become a much more important street.

On weekends it seems like there are more people using Willamette outside of a car than inside one.

I’m on Willamette all the time. My daughter goes to school at Roosevelt High, so I drive on it several times a month. And since it’s the gateway to most of my training rides (Forest Park, Kelley Point, West Hills, and beyond), I ride on it several times a week.

The street has changed a lot over the years. It’s much busier with everything: runners, walkers, bikers, and drivers. Updates are desperately needed to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Would a different street design have impacted Breitenberg’s behavior? Would a physically protected curbside lane with concrete curbs or bollards have muted the impact of his recklessness? Given his state of mind, it’s not likely.

Breitenberg entered a not guilty plea this morning and his next court date is January 7th.

Jason Barns was the 32nd person to die in a Portland traffic crash this year and the fifth person in the past month to die while on foot. His family will host a memorial service on December 29th at 1 pm at the Unity of Beaverton Church in Beaverton. Everyone is welcome.

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

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Doug Hecker
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Doug Hecker

Make sobriety checks legal.

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

Dare you to search for his name on Facebook… Cover photo is a souped up Volvo.

John Lascurettes
Subscriber

Well, no wonder he survived hitting a boulder then. Ugh. Just horrible.

psyfalcon
Guest
psyfalcon

Cover photo is actually a race car.

Police reports state it was a red volvo. Most of those are not fast. Its speaks to the need for better road design -that an average car can get up to that speed on a road like that.

In addition to transportation, and drunk driving penalties, I think we need a way to slow down the motivated speeder. This isn’t 30 in a 25 or 80 on an empty interstate. Can we engineer a way to keep everything below twice the speed limit?

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

That would be a State or Federal rule regarding governors on motor vehicles tied to an electronic system to know what the speed limit is where the vehicle is, with time lags to update databases when speed limits change.

Ken S
Guest
Ken S

Using speed radar activated popup speed bumps, spike strips, steel bollards, etc would be a way to emmediately stop a driver from continuing at double the speed limit.

Outside of reactive, destructive methods, one could also employ chicane road routing, with bije lanes and sidewalks placed outboard of sturdy steel bollards.
This would make it difficult to drive fast and difficult for a high speed crash to involve pedestrians.

Failing that, idk, maybe ban car thru-traffic on all but a select few roads?

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

You’re in the wrong country, comrade.

Ken S
Guest
Ken S

Please elaborate.

I don’t see how child-proofing our roads against negligent/dangerous drivers aligns me with soviet ideals.

J_R
Guest
J_R

Rather insulting, don’t you think?

So, allowing thousands to be killed every month on the streets without doing anything is what? Oh, yeah, Freedom.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Remember–the word “automobile” appears exactly zero times in the constitution of the USA.

SD
Guest
SD

The decision to drive when impaired is inexcusable.

The lack of transportation options other than driving a personal vehicle when people drink alcohol contributes to the amount of drunk driving.

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

It takes like three button taps to call a car that will arrive in minutes. Not a good excuse.

SD
Guest
SD

Good public policy mitigates the potential harm caused by stupid and irresponsible people.

The lack of good public policy is not an excuse for criminal behavior.

Progress on street safety requires changes on multiple fronts.

The two statements I made are both true, not contradictory and one does not invalidate the other.

John Lascurettes
Subscriber

Yeah, people that can afford to “get smashed” at a bar (or drive a souped up Volvo sport model) can afford ride share.

SD
Guest
SD

Yes, but why don’t they call a driver? Why didn’t this guy call a driver or someone that he was drinking with insist that he call a driver?

9watts
Subscriber

Habit.
Experience… this is probably not the first time he drove drunk.
Maybe his friends do too.

SD
Guest
SD

I would also wonder does he have the apps on his phone? Has he ever used one? Do his friends call drivers when they drink? Has he ever used trimet? Does he have the trimet app? Has he ridden a bike for transportation? What would be the cost/ time threshold for him to call a driver? Would he be criticized by his friends for driving drunk, or is he in a social circle that doesn’t recognize the harm of drunk driving or dangerous driving?

Given current technology, if it were profitable to eliminate drunk driving, it would be close to non existent.

Ruben
Guest
Ruben

UBER? LYFT? 24 hours per day

Ruben
Guest
Ruben

This is in reply to SD

SD
Guest
SD

The decision to drive when impaired is inexcusable.

The lack of transportation options other than driving a personal vehicle when people drink alcohol contributes to the amount of drunk driving.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Just no. No “reason” can mitigate this POS’s behavior.

SD
Guest
SD

We’re talking about prevention of behavior not justification.

jeff
Guest
jeff

yeah, if only we had a really cheap ride sharing service with some sort of electronic portal located on something like a cellular telephone…mmmmm…..

Gabriel Trainer
Guest
Gabriel Trainer

80 mph on Willamette!!?!? Oh man that is scary. Willamette is nice to ride because of the lack of stop signs and traffic lights but it is also much to easy to drive fast. Speed bumps with cutouts for bikes in the bike lanes?

HJ
Guest
HJ

You don’t want cutouts. They create awful behaviors as drivers start dodging around to drive through the cutouts. Prime example: The speed bumps on Cornell between Westover and Lovejoy.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Those channels on Cornell are for fire trucks, not bikes, and there are two versions of the channels since it was the test site, but I get your point.

Bike channels would be in a bike lane, if a bike lane was there, or the middle of the travel lane if no bike lanes. Driving in a bike lane can be cited. The driver putting the left side in the bike channel would impact parked cars. The driver putting the right side in a bike channel would shift across the centerline (also citable), so they are only likely to do so when there is no opposing traffic (or cops).

Willamette would require fire-friendly speed bumps, if built.

J_R
Guest
J_R

“Driving in a bike lane can be cited.” Yeah. But has it ever happened in Portland? Even once?

I’ve seen PPB patrol cars do it when they were clearly not responding to an emergency (yes, I know there’s an exception) and have complained to the previous chief with time, date, location and vehicle identifier number. And I’ve seen other motorists do it in front of PPB patrol cars with absolutely no consequences.

John Lascurettes
Subscriber

Ha! I got “pulled over” by a cop for giving a truck the stink-eye for driving in the bike lane to make a turn on NW Broadway. That’s right — no penalty for the driver, but I got pulled over. He wanted to scold me because the driver was “in the right” — we argued about statutes for a while (and he even attempted to claim there are stretches of Broadway without a bike lane), I asked him for his card so I could send him the text from the statues as I understand them. Surprise, surprise, he didn’t have any cards left. I gave him my email and never heard from him again.

mark smith
Guest
mark smith

Sad state of affairs. Should of just asked for his Sargent. But…that would have gotten you arrested for resisting and for harrasing.

Greg Spencer
Guest
Greg Spencer

I’ve ridden on that street a few times, and agree 100% that it’s dangerous by design. There’s a big enough problem with normal traffic, let alone renegade drunks. That street is just a long, straight shot with wide-open views and very few controlled intersections. And the part just southeast of there, the big semi-circle between U of Portland and Rosa Parks — it’s even worse. This is not a “low-stress” bikeway, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with kids there certainly. I would favor wider bikes lanes, curb extensions, more controlled intersections, better street lighting. The experts would know how to do it, but their goal should be to bring speeds way down. Would these measures have prevented Jason Barne’s death? Maybe not, but if Portland would redesign all its main streets with safety in mind, there’s no doubt many lives would be spared.

Heidi
Guest
Heidi

So glad you mentioned this stretch of Willamette! I feel like the streets coming in at an angle pose a problem to drivers; they frequently don’t see me, like for example today when a driver turning left to take Willamette towards Rosa Parks didn’t see me until I was in front of their car. Fortunately my scream is pretty loud — or maybe they finally saw me — and they stopped….

Stephen Keller
Guest
Stephen Keller

80 anywhere in the city is inexcusable. The underlying problem is that we allow vehicles of this power to operate in neighborhoods.

Tyler Johnson
Guest
Tyler Johnson

The laws need to change to protect everyone’s safety. Those who choose to drive impaired should permanently loose the right to drive.

9watts
Subscriber

We could start with those who kill others while driving drunk deserve to spend a long time thinking about their choices, their actions.
Restitution and reconciliation would also be a good start.

John Lascurettes
Subscriber

Makes me wonder. I didn’t see any mention of the VRU law coming into play, but how could it not?

joe adamski
Guest
joe adamski

You hit on an obvious problem of Willamette: much of it is wide field of view and you can drive the ~3.5 miles from the stop sign at N Richmond and except for the signal at Portsmouth and the often ignored cross walk at the entrance to UofP, no traffic control until you make the turn onto Rosa Parks and arrive at the signal at Greeley. I often use Willamette for that reason, and am diligent about speed limits. I experience occasional impatience and aggression for my troubles. It long has been a favorite cut through in N Portland. My neighbors might not like my suggestion, but i would advocate for a stop sign or two added.. my votes would be at Bryant and at the top of the ramp for the Waud Bluff trail.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

All of Willamette is a emergency response route. Traffic calming is possible, but Portland Fire and Rescue could veto the portion west of Portsmouth (Major ER). East of that it is a Secondary route, and fire friendly traffic calming is permitted on those.

Willamette is mostly up on a bluff. Natural ‘through’ roads that might rise to that level of traffic control would be few, the few mentioned.

All of Willamette is Neighborhood Collector, so stopping Willamette for a lower classified side street is unlikely without a significant poor safety record, with crash types that all way stops can correct (right angle and turns).

Extending bike lanes to Richmond would help with cycling.

Centerline rumble strip can help keep errant drivers on their side of the road.

Joe
Guest
Joe

agh so sad, things need to change i’ve also noticed this same sign on tillamook street.

Tabitha vonKuhlmann
Guest
Tabitha vonKuhlmann

As a mother, my heart breaks for this families loss.

A simple call for a cab, an Uber or a Lyft could have stopped this.

As much as I wish it weren’t so, the Driver will get a slap on the wrist because his lawyer will portray him as “a good kid who made a mistake” and he will cry in court and say “how sorry” he is and it will all be lip service.

In the meantime, a family has been irreparably damaged. All because “a good kid made a mistake”.

dan
Guest
dan

I hope you’re wrong, but cynically, I fear you’re pretty much spot on. Note that he entered a “not guilty” plea…I’m no lawyer, but I really find that hard to understand

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

You have to plead Not Guilty so that you can cry and make your case for less punishment. Also, the lawyer gets no money if you don’t use them and just admit to what you did and face the punishment.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

You should always enter a not guilty plea until the plea deal is negotiated.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

He’ll get a token fine and a stern warning from the judge to not do it again. The civil suit? That’s different. Stay tuned.

HJ
Guest
HJ

Civil suit will have a state imposed max of $500k on it.

Tabitha vonkuhlmann
Guest
Tabitha vonkuhlmann

I really do hope that the family of the young man he killed decides to pursue civil action. I know that if a drunk driver killed my husband or child, I would lay waste to their world.

Mike Nations
Guest
Mike Nations

Drunk driver or not, this exact section of N Willamette is a magnet for bad drivers and lane violations and deserves some attention. Shortly before that curve at N Burr, the bike lane on Willamette comes to an abrupt end at N Alma. The road curves at the same time the bike lane markings end, which decreases visibility distance for drivers and effectively “widens” the road all of a sudden. It is common to see cars exit the curve at N Alma, cutting off the bike lane that just ended in the process, and then enter the curve at N Burr at a high rate of speed. Drivers frequently cross into the opposing lane while going around this exact curve, cutting the corner.

It happens all day long whether drivers are sober or not, though admittedly not usually at 80mph. While this driver’s intoxication and speed certainly made this specific incident much more severe than most incidents on this street, it seems reflective of a general attitude that N Willamette is fair game for driving however fast you want to.

Close calls happen regularly at this location and are basically an expected feature of the commute home. There is no good reason for the bike lane markings to end there. Especially now that N Willamette has essentially become a freeway, it would be nice to have a continuous bike lane all the way to N Richmond (at least).

BradWagon
Subscriber

“Breitenberg entered a not guilty plea this morning and his next court date is January 7th.”

lol uhhh what? Your drunk self already plead guilty at the scene of the crime. Good luck with that.

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

I wonder if people who get around by car even notice all those “Drive like your kids live here” and similar signs. My family has taken to calling them “signs of the times” and they are all over the place. As near as I can tell, they are universally ignored except in those places where a particularly crotchety soul-mate puts in the effort to come out and scold the scofflaws (obviously, that’s only possible in special locales). So, I wonder if they are unseen or if motorists just refuse to abide.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

Crotchety people coming out to yell at drivers just makes those people drive faster next time.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

People that drive don’t think that PSAs are aimed at them because they’re good drivers. Those PSAs are for the other drivers out there causing accidents. And even good drivers are involved in accidents. Those signs are nothing but a way for drivers to deflect blame to other drivers. They drive fast everywhere, because their kids are smart enough to stay out of the road. Cars are dangerous and you stay out of their way or you’re the bad citizen.

Signs do not change driver behavior. Signs distract drivers from paying attention to the actual environment. The environment is the only thing currently changing driver behavior. The current environment encourages dangerous driving.

Greg Spencer
Guest
Greg Spencer

Yes, people don’t change dangerous behavior because of friendly nudges. It takes laws and investment.

nuovorecord
Guest
nuovorecord

I honestly think that there are many people that Just. Don’t. Care. They don’t care that their driving habits are lousy. They don’t care that they’re speeding down neighborhood streets. They don’t care if they endanger the lives of others. They don’t care what the traffic laws are. They just want everyone and everything to get the f**k out of their way so they can get wherever it is they’re going in the shortest amount of time possible, with the least amount of interference. It’s a “f**k you and f**k your stupid sign” mindset. I see it every single day. And I think it’s more than just a transportation issue. We’re becoming enumbed to each other, and that does not bode well for society. 🙁

Pete
Guest
Pete

The new Apple campus and associated rise in localized traffic has inundated several adjacent neighborhoods. Those signs are now everywhere around here. Coincidence?

Original Bikerider (O.B.)
Guest
Original Bikerider (O.B.)

I can’t get over the fact that this guy who was out there in the dark, cold night collecting cans, just died from being poor.

TonyT
Subscriber
TonyT

“Just after 11:00 pm on midnight on November 15th” This is confusing. Not that it gets in the way of the rest of the story, but it is a confusing way to start.

Johnny Bludo
Guest
Johnny Bludo

hopefully this **insult deleted by moderator** will get a decent time behind bars and a mega fine. I’m hoping for at least 5 years, does not sound like a lot but sadly that’s probably the most he’ll get if he’s a 1st time offender, unless the judge goes for first-degree manslaughter, he might get more time.

Johnny Bludo
Guest
Johnny Bludo
PdxSk8er
Guest
PdxSk8er

Johnny, he’ll likely get less than 3 years. Just like Joel Schrantz, who killed a cyclist on the St Johns bridge 2 years ago…both guys have histories of fast reckless behavior and little consideration for others. Schrantz hit me head on in 2014, then backed up and took off.

mark smith
Guest
mark smith

injuring or maiming while imparied should be treated the same way as injury or death by gun. Full felony arrest, knee in the back, face in the pavement…etc. Instead, the perp generally gets to sit on the curb, and at the last minute, put in the car. I saw a photo last week where a perp killed a cyclist because “the sun was in her eyes (pesky sun out of nowhere)” and she admitted to fiddling in her car. But..the sun (again, out of nowwhere) was blamed.

Thank goodness the driver didn’t claim he choked on a big gulp. He probably would have walked.