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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).


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

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62 thoughts on “A fatal crash on North Willamette was fueled by reckless and drunk driving”

  1. Avatar Doug Hecker says:

    Make sobriety checks legal.

  2. Avatar SilkySlim says:

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

    1. Avatar psyfalcon says:

      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?

      1. Avatar paikiala says:

        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.

      2. Avatar Ken S says:

        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?

        1. Avatar paikiala says:

          You’re in the wrong country, comrade.

          1. Avatar Ken S says:

            Please elaborate.

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

          2. Avatar J_R says:

            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.

            1. Avatar Dave says:

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

  3. Avatar SD says:

    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.

    1. Avatar SilkySlim says:

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

      1. Avatar SD says:

        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.

      2. Avatar SD says:

        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?

        1. Avatar 9watts says:

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

          1. Avatar SD says:

            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.

    2. Avatar Ruben says:

      UBER? LYFT? 24 hours per day

      1. Avatar Ruben says:

        This is in reply to SD

      2. Avatar SD says:

        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.

    3. Avatar Steve says:

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

      1. Avatar SD says:

        We’re talking about prevention of behavior not justification.

    4. Avatar jeff says:

      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…..

  4. Avatar Gabriel Trainer says:

    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?

    1. Avatar HJ says:

      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.

      1. Avatar paikiala says:

        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.

        1. Avatar J_R says:

          “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.

          1. Avatar mark smith says:

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

    2. Avatar Greg Spencer says:

      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.

      1. Avatar Heidi says:

        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….

    3. Avatar Stephen Keller says:

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

  5. Avatar Tyler Johnson says:

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

    1. Avatar 9watts says:

      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.

      1. John,

        The VRU law applies only when Careless Driving is the charge. This is Reckless. And there’s manslaughter.

        VRU law was created to make sure people got a real consequence when they otherwise could skate away with just a fine.

        1. Avatar Dan A says:

          I wonder if that law was applied in Corvallis recently. Jeffrey Scoville was speeding in a Ford E-350 pulling a cargo trailer, ignored the flashing lights of a mid-block crosswalk, and killed Eric Austin, a cyclist who was walking in the crosswalk. He got 200 hours community service and a $1000 fine.

          1. Avatar Carole Parker says:

            Eric was not walking in the crosswalk. He road his bike out into it without looking south to see if a car was coming and he hit Jeff’s van. There was dash cam video that the Grand Jury watched. They found no criminal intent on Jeff’s part.

        2. Avatar HJ says:

          Exactly. A fatality or serious injury should be all that’s required to make the determination of careless.

        3. Avatar Devin Quince says:

          We deal with the same thing here in CO and I am curious what is the difference between “careless” and “reckless” driving and how there can any question when the person admits he should not have been driving. #SMH

          1. Avatar Gary B says:

            It’s a difference of degree, how far beyond the “standard of care” the driver was. The legal definitions are not particularly helpful–carelessly disregarding safety, versus wanton disregard for safety. Bottom line is they are points on a spectrum between the “standard of care” (i.e., safe enough) and intentionally harming someone. And those points are defined by the collective “wisdom” of DAs and juries who decide how safe is enough and how dangerous the behavior is in comparison.

    2. Avatar joe adamski says:

      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.

      1. Avatar paikiala says:

        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.

  6. Avatar Joe says:

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

  7. Avatar Tabitha vonKuhlmann says:

    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”.

    1. Avatar dan says:

      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

      1. Avatar Johnny Bye Carter says:

        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.

      2. Avatar paikiala says:

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

  8. Avatar Mike Quigley says:

    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.

    1. Avatar HJ says:

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

  9. Avatar Tabitha vonkuhlmann says:

    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.

  10. Avatar Mike Nations says:

    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).

  11. Avatar BradWagon says:

    “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.

  12. Avatar B. Carfree says:

    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.

    1. Avatar Johnny Bye Carter says:

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

    2. Avatar Johnny Bye Carter says:

      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.

      1. Avatar Greg Spencer says:

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

    3. Avatar nuovorecord says:

      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. 🙁

    4. Avatar Pete says:

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

  13. Avatar Original Bikerider (O.B.) says:

    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.

  14. TonyT TonyT says:

    “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.

    1. ugh. thanks TonyT. That is soo embarrassing to make a mistake like that. fixed it.

  15. Avatar Johnny Bludo says:

    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.

  16. Avatar PdxSk8er says:

    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.

  17. Avatar mark smith says:

    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.

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