Oregon 2008: a mix of the tragic and the offbeat
10:21 AM PST on Monday, December 29, 2008
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Amid the tragic and the improbably wacky, 2008 in Oregon was hard to pigeonhole. It really wasn't defined by anything specific. It was something else instead.
It opened with missing climbers found alive in a snow cave on Mount Hood, a grim reminder of the three climbers who weren't so lucky in 2006.
It closed with the stunning deaths and grieving families of two police officers and the critical wounding of another when they mistook a bomb at a Woodburn bank for a hoax. A father and son faced murder charges.
Recession crept into the state, causing job losses and mortgage foreclosures. Falling housing prices left many homeowners owing more than their homes are worth and with their American dreams fractured.
A helicopter carrying Oregon firefighters to a wildfire in California crashed, killing nine men. A private plane smashed into a vacation home in Gearhart, killing three children in the house and the plane's two occupants.
But despite the tragedies, the things that make Oregon and Oregonians different came shining through.
Who will forget Kent Couch, who hooked clouds of balloons to a lawn chair and set out for a 200-mile flight from Central Oregon to Idaho -- and made it.
Tonya Harding, a former figure skating champion and, briefly, a boxer, attended the Portland premiere of "Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera" in February. The film was inspired by the 1994 attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan during a U.S. Figure Skating Association competition. She denied previous knowledge of the attack but was barred from competition for life.
Harding, who grew up in hardscrabble surroundings, asked, "Did my life really look that bad?" but said the cast did a great job. A lot of critics agreed.
Sample song: "Whip Her Butt." Sample lyrics: "When you wake up sleeping in your car in Estacada, `cause your house is surrounded by reporters and the FBI."
In the Columbia River town Arlington, Mayor Carmen Kontur-Gronquist, 42, did something not many others ever managed to do. She put it on the map.
The world looked on last winter after some constituents complained that racy photos on her MySpace page showing her on a town fire engine and clad only in bra and panties were a bit much. Kontur-Gronquist said she had permission from the fire chief to use the engine and had intended to submit the photos in a fitness contest.
It offended some, but not all, rural sensitivities. She was recalled by a 142-139 vote. She later sold signed copies of her most popular MySpace photo on eBay.
Downriver, Portland promoted City Commissioner Sam Adams, becoming the largest city in the U.S. to elect an openly gay mayor.
Along the river, things were looking grim for California sea lions who gather at the base of Bonneville Dam each spring to dine on the spring chinook salmon run. A federal judge signed off on a federal program to remove up to 85 of the protected animals a year for five years, by lethal means if necessary.
The Humane Society of the United States and others whisked the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where it was pending at year's end.
Oregon chuckled when John Grady Pippen, a 71-year-old retired logger from Gold Beach, went to a hospital there with abdominal pains.
"Based on your visit today," the paperwork told him, "we know you are pregnant."
The diagnosis was traced not to a wild night on the town but to an errant computer keystroke.
There were real medical miracles, too.
Cole Ortega, 14, of Bend, started high school this fall two-handed after a fishing dory severed his arm while he surfed near Pacific City.
Friends recovered the arm and doctors reattached it. They aren't sure how completely he'll recover, but he's back at Summit High School, riding his mountain bike and hoping to get some snowboarding in this winter.
Britt Leis, 35, of Bend spent a month in the hospital after he was attacked in October by two men and stabbed at least 18 times on a beach in Ecuador. He was flown to California after extensive surgery and was recovering at the home of a sister, a resident surgeon.
There was a memorable goodbye. U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith was upset in his bid for a third term by Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley, leaving Oregon with no statewide elected Republican in a partisan office, apparently for the first time since at least the 1870s.
Judge Janice Wilson found that anti-tax activist Bill Sizemore had violated a 2003 court order that barred him from using a charitable organization to raise money for political purposes. It was a victory for public-employee unions in their long battle with Sizemore and his initiatives to hobble them.
The judge ordered Sizemore and the charity to pay a judgment equal to the amount of assets that he and the charity transferred to him, for personal and political uses.
All of Sizemore's ballot initiatives failed in November. He promises more in 2010.
Enthusiasm over the Democratic presidential candidacy of Barack Obama helped push voter registration to an all-time high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans by about 230,000.
An estimated 70,000 people gathered at Portland's Waterfront Park for an Obama primary campaign rally, Oregon's largest such gathering in recent memory, possibly ever.
That helped Democrats to a supermajority in the Legislature, meaning they can pass tax increases with no Republican support.
The state faces a staggering revenue shortfall for the next biennium and may need extra funds to maintain basic services -- this in a time of deep recession with tax hikes anathema to voters. With jobs vanishing, state income tax revenue, a backbone of Oregon's revenue stream, is approaching free fall.
We bid farewell to Dr. Jayant Patel, a surgeon who left a trail of dead patients in operating rooms and finally was extradited to Australia to face three counts of manslaughter from surgery he did there.
We saw the return of radical environmentalist Tre Arrow, once one of the FBI's most-wanted fugitives, who had fled to Canada but accepted a plea deal on federal arson and conspiracy charges in Oregon.
Arrow, 34, who legally changed his name from Michael Scarpitti, saying the trees told him to do it, was charged with helping to destroy concrete-mixing trucks in Portland and of firebombing logging trucks near Mount Hood in 2001.
Arrow's 78-month sentence takes into account time served in Canada on a shoplifting charge, leaving him about two years to serve.
He may be best remembered for the 11 days he spent perched on the 9-inch ledge of the U.S. Forest Service Building 30 feet above ground in downtown Portland to protest logging.
Joel Courtney, accused of the kidnapping and murder of Brigham Young University student Brooke Wilberger, was extradited from New Mexico where he already had been convicted of kidnapping and rape.
Wilberger is presumed dead. Courtney has refused an offer of a plea deal that might spare him a death sentence if he shows prosecutors where the body is. A trial is probable in 2010. Wilberger vanished while working at an apartment her sister managed near Oregon State University in Corvallis in 2004.
Oregon 2008: a mix of the tragic and the offbeat | Local News | kgw.com | News for Portland Oregon and SW Washington
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