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September 2014 -- Vol. 109, No. 1

Memories of THE BEE's first 100 years!
In 2006, THE BEE celebrated its centennial of serving Southeast Portland!  A special four-page retrospective of Inner Southeast Portland's century, written by Eileen Fitzsimons, and drawn from the pages of THE BEE over the previous 100 years, appeared in our September, 2006, issue.
Click here to read this special retrospective!


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Daily news!  The all-new daily PORTLAND TRIBUNE website  is updated throughout the day, every day, when news breaks out.  Click the banner at left to keep up to date on the banner news throughout the Rose City!

THE BEE has a second website -- it's searchable for past stories.  The content for the current month is similar to this one, presented in a different format.  To visit the other website, click the banner at right!

Sellwood drowning
Firefighters from Westmoreland’s Station 20 comfort a friend who was swimming with the young man who had just drowned in the Willamette River near the east bank, just south of the Sellwood Bridge. (Photo by David F. Ashton)

Cleveland High grad drowns in swimming mishap

By DAVID F. ASHTON
for THE BEE 

An afternoon of fun cooling off in the Willamette River came to a tragic end on Friday, August 1, when 18-year-old Mario Antonio Martinez Villalta was swimming near the new Sellwood Bridge’s construction barges with two friends. 

Some reports stated that Villalta climbed on and jumped off the construction barge closest to shore. “It was reported that [Villalta] jumped from a structure near the water and was not seen again,” said Multnomah County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) spokesman Lt. Steve Alexander.

At 5:28 pm, someone called the 9-1-1 Center to report a possible drowning at the site.

“[Villalta] was having difficulty swimming to shore; it was reported that he was not a strong swimmer, and that he was not wearing a life jacket,” said Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) Public Information Officer Lt. Rich Chatman.

“Two rescue personal watercraft with rescue swimmers and one rescue boat were sent to the scene in hopes of rescuing the young man, but he had submerged below water before their arrival.”

It was originally reported that two of the swimmers had jumped from the Sellwood Bridge prior to the incident, but Chatman later released that that the swimmers entered the water from the east bank, and had been swimming near a construction barge.

An hour after the first call, the Multnomah County Sheriff Department River Patrol arrived to bring recovery divers to the scene.

“For several hours, MCSO Dive teams unsuccessfully searched the area where Villalta was last seen, concluding their search a little after 11 pm.,” later reported Alexander.

On Monday, August 4, a worker in the River Park Center, on S.E. Spokane Street just south of Sellwood Riverfront Park, and also a Portland Parks & Recreation worker, called in reports of a body floating in the river.

“Land-based crews located the body about 20 yards from the east bank of the river, and marine units performed the recovery,” said PF&R spokesman Gabriel Watson. “The Multnomah County Sheriff’s office assisted on this incident.”

The following day, the Multnomah County Medical Examiner's office confirmed that the body recovered was that of Villarata, who was reported to have been a 2014 Cleveland High School graduate.

“Accidental Drowning” was listed as the cause of death.



Eastmoreland house demolition
The demolition excavator made quick work of the embattled Eastmoreland house on Rural Street; at the end of the day about all that was left was kindling. (Photo by David F. Ashton)

Neighbors can’t save Eastmoreland home from demolition

By DAVID F. ASHTON
for THE BEE

With the mighty crunch of a demolition excavator’s claw, the house at 3620 S.E. Rural Street started being torn to shreds at 8:30 am on Monday, August 4.

In our promised sequel to THE BEE’s story in our July issue, “‘Park-In’ delays Eastmoreland home’s demolition”, the delay in tearing down the home was short-lived.

An effort by neighbors to buy the home from developer Randy Sebastian of Renaissance Homes failed, as did an attempt by the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association to obtain a 120-day demolition delay.

“In our opinion, the legality of the demolition remains cloudy,” said ENA Land Use Chair Rod Merrick.

The subdivision of the property – enabling the developer to build two houses on the single lot – should have been delayed, under the language of City statute 24.55.200, Merrick asserted.

“But the mandated 120-day delay filed by the neighborhood association was waived by BDS without warning. The developer was allowed to cancel his original filings and replace them with paperwork that supported constructing only one house.”

Demolishing one house and replacing it with a single new one negates the 120-day delay, Merrick pointed out. “As all parties well know, the announced plan is to build two houses on the lot. BDS has decided to administratively move lot lines at this location to facilitate the lot-split.”

Renaissance Homes has reportedly agreed to build the taller of the two new homes on the western end of the property, as a neighbor requested.

“Working with Renaissance Homes was significantly easier than working with the city's Bureau of Development Services,” ruefully remarked ENA President Robert McCullough. “I thank Randy Sebastian and his staff for the two week delay.”

“In the end, the villain in this story is the city,” McCullough told THE BEE. “Randy is a businessperson trying to make a buck. He’s a tough negotiator, but he was honest in his dealings, openly saying what he intended to do was subdivide the property and build two homes.”

ENA has decided not to take the matter to the Land Use Board of Appeals.

“What’s happened here is called, by some, ‘soft corruption’,” McCullough opined. “This isn’t the level of honesty we’d expect from the Portland City Government.”

As the dust from the demolition settled, ENA Board Member Kimberly Koehler commented, “The events at 3620 S.E. Rural have renewed neighborhood interest in distributing a covenant that property owners can attach to their deed, preventing a lot-split, should their home be sold to a developer.”



Plaid Pantry bandit
After a chase led by a stolen car, Police capture the driver – 24-year-old Demarcus Yordell Vance – in Parkrose; Vance’s MCDC mug shot, after he was charged with the five Plaid Pantry holdups in one day, is shown at left. (Photo courtesy of KOIN News 6)

“Plaid” robbery spree includes Woodstock store

By DAVID F. ASHTON
for THE BEE 

It was a busy day for 24-year-old parolee Demarcus Yordell Vance, who stands accused of robbing five Plaid Pantry markets across the city on Monday, August 11.

His alleged crime spree began at 2:52 am, say the police – when he demanded and received money from the clerk at a Plaid Pantry store at 2010 N. Killingsworth Street, and then fled. 

Second in line, at 9:30 am in Woodstock, was the Plaid Pantry at 5146 S.E. Holgate Boulevard, at the corner of 52nd, when a man of the same description robbed the store.

“East Precinct officers arrived, established a perimeter, and attempted to contain the suspect,” said Portland Police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson. “A K-9 unit responded, but was unsuccessful in locating the suspect.”

Well, that may have been because he was already on the road back north – at 10:50 am North Precinct officers responded to a robbery call at the Plaid Pantry at 7144 N.E. Killingsworth Street. It was a holdup by a person of the same description. 

After, perhaps, an extended break for lunch, at 5:48 pm the suspect struck again: Officers were called to the Plaid Pantry at 6510 N. Greeley Avenue, where the bandit fled with money and items taken from the store.

After this robbery, Simpson mused to reporters, “The Police Bureau is exploring the possibility that these robberies are related to other similar robberies which have been reported.”

Finally, on August 12, at just one minute past midnight, officers responded to a holdup at a Plaid Pantry store at 1715 N.E. 16th Avenue.

“Officers located a stolen vehicle possibly associated with the robbery, and attempted to stop it,” Simpson said. “The vehicle fled, and officers pursued it.” 

The bandit abandoned the car in the area of N.E. 96th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard; but officers, with the help of a police dog, this time captured him. “Officers recovered money taken in the robbery,” Simpson reported later that day.

Vance was booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC) on August 12 at 4:54 am, on five counts of Robbery in the Second Degree, Possession of a Stolen Vehicle, and four additional charges.

Vance is currently housed at MCDC in lieu of $1,020,000 combined bail. There has been no explanation for the bandit’s apparent special interest in Plaid Pantry stores, but there is one other in Woodstock that he overlooked.



Sellwood Bridge for sale
Imagine yourself enjoying a view like this from your front porch, as sunset approaches – because you’re the new owner of the old Sellwood Bridge! This is literally the chance of a lifetime. All the buyer has to do is come up with the money, and figure out how to get the bridge safely to where he or she wants to put it. Time is short. Act now! (BEE file photo)

Pssst! Wanna buy a bridge?
Old Sellwood Bridge put up for sale (buyer must tow)

By DAVID F. ASHTON
for THE BEE 

Many have asked – when the new Sellwood Bridge has been opened – if the old, 1,100-foot-long continuous steel span built in 1925 will be taken down with explosive charges and fireworks.

Multnomah County project spokesman Mike Pullen responded, no, there won’t be a spectacular ending to the old structure.

Instead, Pullen said that Multnomah County has officially put the bridge put up for sale.

“The bridge has been designated a historic resource, which requires it to be made available for historic reuse, before it is removed to make way for the new Sellwood Bridge,” Pullen explained. “So, Multnomah County is accepting proposals to buy the bridge until September 12. 

Should no buyers come forward by the nearing deadline, Pullen said that Plan B is to dismantle the bridge, and recycle most of its materials.

While the county is ready to “wheel-and-deal” to sell the structure – which comes complete with a paved road, sidewalk, and railings, the buyer will need to prove they’re able to:

  • Come up with the purchase price;
  • Cover the steel structure to contain lead paint;
  • Re-use it in a way that preserves the historic resource;
  • Have a place to put it; and,
  • That they can pay to move it safely.

“The county is willing to sell the bridge at a price less than it would otherwise earn from recycling the 88-year-old steel-and-concrete structure – if the buyer keeps it intact,” Pullen added. “We'd even consider a plan to buy half of it, especially if somebody was going to make it available for public use.”

Multnomah County Board of Commissioners Chair Deborah Kafoury confirmed the sale of the bridge to THE BEE. “This is a unique opportunity. We encourage any potential buyers to call us, and we’ll work out an arrangement.”

New bridge construction progresses
During our monthly progress report at the worksite for the NEW Sellwood Bridge, Pullen said, “We’re doing pretty well with the project. We will be shifting lanes on Highway 43 by the first of September on the west end of the bridge. The retaining walls are ready to move traffic up against them.”

August 6th was another milestone day for the bridge. A gigantic construction crane was offloading pre-stressed concrete I-beams, and setting them in place on the west side bridge approach. “After today, no more beams will be installed until we replace the final remaining part of the eastside approach later in 2015,” Pullen said.

At the end of the east side “work bridge”, Pullen pointed out a cluster of white PVC tubes protruding from the “angel wings” on the east river pier, Bent 5. “These precisely placed, high-strength steel bolts will fasten the steel arch span to the pier that will the installed this winter.”

According to the construction timetable, they’ll begin installing the steel arches in January.



Stolen BMW dives into Oaks Bottom
After a car thief stole it and chose to destroy it by running it over the cliff into Oaks Bottom, this BMW now seems destined for the scrap yard. (Photo by David F. Ashton)

Stolen BMW takes dive into Oaks Bottom

By DAVID F. ASHTON
for THE BEE 

Neighbors near S.E. Sellwood Boulevard and 11th Avenue heard a commotion outside their homes in the early morning hours of August 7 – but didn’t see anything to account for it, as dawn broke over Oaks Bottom.

The ruckus did cause at least one neighbor to call the 9-1-1 Center and report tire tracks leading over the edge of the bluff, and down into the wetland below.

At 5:05 am, Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Central Precinct officers came to the area to investigate an “injury accident” – but found nothing but a scraped curb, and tire tracks that disappeared over the edge of the overlook.

Portland Fire & Rescue’s “High Angle Rescue Team” was called out at 5:08 am and began looking for victims in, or near, the car that crashed some 200 feet down to the floor of Oaks Bottom from the ridge above. 

According to PF&R spokesman Lt. Damon Simmons, the rescue team found no victims, just a badly wrecked car.

It took two Speed’s Towing crews and several hours to recover the silver BMW 325i four-door sedan that had landed upside down on the bluff trail, smashing a small footbridge. “They told us it was about 100 feet down; but it turns out that it was closer to 200 feet,” remarked one of the drivers.

The tow driver said police told them the car was stolen. But, oddly, the car’s ignition was not punched out – and the vehicle’s ignition key, on a consumer-type key ring, was still in the ignition switch when the smashed car was hauled back up onto Sellwood Boulevard. Perhaps the thief found the key in the ignition.

“The vehicle was running when it went over the ridge, because airbags deployed,” one of the tow truck drivers reflected. “Airbags don’t deploy unless the vehicle is ‘on’.”

Portland Police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson later confirmed that it was, indeed, a stolen car, but he didn’t have the name of the owner or the circumstances of the theft. “The 2001 BMW 325i was reported stolen the night before, on August 6 at 9:08 pm.”

At this writing, no suspects have been identified, and no arrests have been made, Simpson said.



Alex Rovello, Berkeley Park, tennis courts
Eastmoreland’s Berkeley Park tennis courts were christened the Alex Rovello Memorial Tennis Courts at a special celebration on July 27. (Photo by Rita A. Leonard)

“Alex Rovello Memorial Tennis Courts” dedicated on July 27

By RITA A. LEONARD
for THE BEE

On Sunday, July 27, Portland Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Mike Abbate, Director of Portland Parks & Recreation, joined Jim and Geri Rovello at Berkeley Park, at S.E. 39th (Chavez Blvd.) and Bybee Boulevard, to formally dedicate the two newly renovated tennis courts there as the “Alex Rovello Memorial Courts”.

The public dedication that drew hundreds honored Oregon’s late tennis star and Cleveland High graduate Alex Rovello, who died last spring at the age of 21.

The two courts where Alex learned to play tennis at the age of 2 were both completely refurbished and updated by midsummer, paid for by family and friends, donations, and fund raisers. There is also a maintenance fund, and a fund to provide activities and events to promote interest in tennis.

The Rovellos had enjoyed spending much family time at the tennis courts, and followed Alex's continuing successes at the sport through his four years at Cleveland High School and on to his very promising college play at the University of Oregon.

The Phase Two highlights of the recently-completed project include a viewing area with benches, planters, memorial kiosk, and signage. Landscaping and tree trimming have been completed, as well as the installation of drains and an ADA-accessible entrance. 

Additional features include the replacement of a concrete pad for a water fountain, and the placement of concrete pads and benches under the east-side trees, to make an additional viewing area. The green and yellow colors highlighting the new courts are the colors of both the U of O and Cleveland High. 

The dedication ceremony featured music, games, balloons, tennis exhibitions, and activities for all ages. Friends and supporters of Alex and of the renovation gathered to watch and participate in various field games at the event, sharing memories and congratulating Jim and Geri for the generous gift they envisioned. 

The project memorializes a nationally-ranked Junior Player in the US Tennis Association, Alex Rovello – who also made state history as the first men's high school tennis player to win four singles state titles. 

Mike Abbate of Portland Parks commended the Rovellos on their vision, and their remarkably successful fund-raising project to benefit the public. Commissioner Fritz thanked them as well for “this wonderful gift to the community, whose intent is to carry on the Rovellos’ love of tennis and family fun”. 

Woodstock Library, flood
Chairs and ceiling are reflected in standing water at the Woodstock Branch Library after it flooded in the night. (Photo courtesy of Peter Ford)

Woodstock Library hit with flood 

By ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF
for THE BEE

Neighborhood branch libraries can be a hub of the community, especially during the summer.  So it was with disappointment that hundreds of eager patrons turned away recently after reading the posted notice about a flood in the Woodstock Branch Library.       

On Thursday morning, July 31st, Woodstock Library staff arrived to find that a plumbing pipe had broken, and water had leaked from the janitor’s closest all night long. One and a half inches of water stood on the reading room floor and did quite a bit of damage, but fortunately did not reach anything on the shelves.

Carol Uhte, Woodstock Branch Administrator, had praise for everyone who responded, beginning with one of her staff who on arrival turned off the water Thursday morning.  

Workers from the Multnomah County Facilities Department and contracted companies to move in to vacuum up the water (and at one point, to send it gushing out the front door), to drill holes in the baseboards to reach water that had seeped through the walls, and then to begin the process of drying carpets as well as wiring conduits that extend through the floors.

The library administrator’s office needed new insulation and sheet rock because the water had seeped under the wall and was absorbed by the insulation.

The library was closed for five days, while dehumidifiers and fans filled the building with humming, and the heat was turned up to help evaporate the water.

On Monday, August 4th, while the building was still closed, the last eight gallons of water were removed from the wires. According to Administrator Uhte, “Everything is now bone dry.”

One young adult patron summed up the public’s appreciation for its libraries when he arrived on one of the days it was closed, with a large bag of books to return. 

“Man, I’ve been lovin’ this library,” he said with a sigh as he got back on his bike. 

Although library users were given the option of returning books to neighboring libraries, a skeleton crew of Woodstock Library staff was able to check in some items while the library was closed.  “On hold” items for patrons were held through Saturday of the following week to allow users enough time to get them.  

No fines were charged for the time the library was closed.






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