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Monster waves crash on Oregon's coast

Recent storms have brought monster waves to the Oregon Coast, locally the highest recorded by the National Weather Service crested at 42 feet.

“The waves have been so high because the storm had a good dynamic stretch. Which means the storm system was moving at the same speed as the waves,” meteorologist with the National Weather Service Sven Nelaimischkies said.

The 42-foot wave was recorded by a wave rider buoy northwest of Reedsport. The National Weather services has said that wave from this storm are averaging closer to 30 feet.

Nelaimischkies said he was at Shore Acres yesterday to watch the waves and saw a couple of rouge wave that washed onto the Cape Arago Highway at Sunset Bay. No one was hurt, but some debris from the ocean did wash onto the road.

Waves were so bad that a man in Depoe Bay was carried out to sea. The  Coast Guard Boat Station could not launch rescue boats. Several rescue helicopters traveled from the North Bend Air Station to look for the man. After more than 12 hours of searching with helicopters and ground teams the man was presumed dead.

The cold case of Frank J. Pettingill
Authorities still on the search of lead suspect in 1991 homicide

COOS COUNTY — The last time Frank Jay Pettingill was seen, he was promising his wife he would to return home with a TV guide.

He was headed to Curtis Mathes, an appliance store that used to sit where the Prefontaine mural now stands in Coos Bay.

It’s unclear if he ever made it there.

That was on Saturday, Sept. 2, 1991, on Labor Day.

Mushroom pickers found his body on Blue Ridge in Coos Bay the next morning. They led a a Coos County Sheriff’s deputy there, who walked as close as he could to the body, looked around and could tell there had been homicidal violence.

Detective Dan Looney, now the criminal division captain for the Sheriff’s Department, arrived at the scene and activated the Major Crime Team. At the time, the team was still young, having come together after the murder and continued cold case of Jeremy Bright four years prior.

“We had members from Coos Bay Police, North Bend, Myrtle Point, Coquille, the (sheriff's) department, State Police, all responded and began an investigation,” said Capt. Kelley Andrews with the Sheriff’s Office.

Even Andrews was on the case as a reserve deputy. He vividly remembered seeing detectives from the Coos Bay Police Department in on a holiday “which never happened unless something bad was going on.”

To make it worse, Pettingill’s murder was one in a string of murders seen around the county that year. There had been a homicide in July where a woman was shot over a reported drug deal in Barview, a homicide in August where a man was stabbed in the Bellvey Tavern, which is now O’Brady’s in Empire, and then Pettingill’s homicide in September which would be followed by another murder in October when a woman was shot by her son while she was making cookies. Then in December, a Hispanic male was stabbed to death behind the Red Lion, also in Coos Bay.

“It was a very active year for us,” Andrews told The World while he looked through three binders containing Pettingill’s cold case. “This is the only one that remains unsolved from that year.”

Labor Day Weekend

According to Andrews, Pettingill lived in the county. Between where he lived with his wife and the convenience store in Coos Bay, there was no reason he would have to drive near Blue Ridge. In fact, Blue Ridge was nearly 20 minutes out of his way.

Andrews said they have no idea why he was there, but they also don’t believe it was a dumping site. Rather, they think he was killed there and left on the side of the road.

“On Sunday, when his body was found and the investigation began, his wife was calling him in as a missing person,” Andrews said. “It was almost simultaneous that afternoon.”

On Monday, Sep. 3, his 1974 Chevy GMC was found at Bastendorf Beach mired down in the sand.

Witness interviews led authorities to a woman seen at the truck and pulling items out of it. She is still considered a person of interest, though has never been identified.

“That weekend was busy,” Andrews said. “We had this unknown female and started asking around about her when we learned she was later seen in Coos Bay talking with guys from two motorcycle clubs.”

In 1991, Coos Bay was home to the international headquarters of the Gypsy Jokers. The motorcycle “club” is known throughout the United States, Europe and Australia.

“During that weekend, they call it their Coos Bay Labor Day Run and were going to a few locations,” Andrews said. “With them was the Outsider Club. They were all over town, which wasn’t unusual then. We would see motorcycle clubs all over town back in those days.”

The main suspect in Pettingill’s murder, the unidentified woman, was spotted by witnesses asking where she could find members of these clubs.

“Because of that, we thought there was a connection,” Andrews said. “We went through extensive investigations and sent detectives to other clubs in the state and even into Washington, but we couldn’t make a connection with them to this homicide.”

One of the interesting aspects of the case was when authorities questioned members from the Gypsy Jokers and Outsiders about the woman.

“Whether they are being tight-lipped, we don’t know,” Andrews said. “Women can’t be members in those clubs, but are more like property, so if she wasn’t a ‘member’ then I’m not sure why they wouldn’t give her up. She may have just been trying to connect with them for a dream of hers and they may not be connected at all.”

The mystery woman was also seen using a pay phone at the Blue Moon, where a lot of the motorcycle club members were hanging out.

“We had a lot of personnel on the ground with this homicide,” Andrews explained. “Back then we had a crime lab with the Oregon State Police here, which was shut down in 2003. Personally I sat on the crime scene as a reserve all night long. Our sheriff now was a detective sergeant at the time, so this case has been one that I know we really look back on and wish we could have solved.

“Not that there is no hope. We are pursuing leads, but most leads have petered out.”

Female DNA

At the crime scene, DNA belonging to an unidentified female was found.

“We have made efforts through science that may help us in the future,” Andrews said. “Some evidence was left at the scene, so there is DNA being run through the system every month.”

Because that DNA hasn’t had a hit after nearly 20 years, some of the investigators believe the woman is either dead or is on the straight and narrow and staying out of trouble.

Andrews pointed out that Pettingill’s wife was quickly ruled out as a suspect. As for whether or not Pettingill was having an affair, that’s unknown.

“Even though leads are minimal, we are keeping some things back, including how he was killed,” Andrews said.

With cold cases, information often surfaces decades later when relationships change. Through giving this interview with The World, Andrews hopes someone who knows something about this case is now free to speak.

“She may have had a boyfriend she told stuff to and ended the relationship,” he said. “We find people who come forward who know suspects and are no longer friends and they come to us, saying they heard a story from them. That’s often how we solve cases like these.”

From witness accounts over that Labor Day weekend, a sketch artist created a rendering of what she looked like. The Sheriff’s Department is releasing that composite sketch again with hopes that someone recognizes her.

“This is what she would have looked like in 1991,” Andrews said. “No one has ever been able to identify her. If she is still alive, she would be in her 50s.”

For Andrews and others still in the department, they are attached to the Pettingill homicide.

“We worked on it and we continue to get tips on this, though it’s been a few years since our last tip, but I think it’s solvable,” he said. “The key is going to be finding her.”

To report new information, call the Sheriff's Office at 541-396-7800.

US government shuts down; Dems, GOP blame each other

WASHINGTON — The federal government shut down at the stroke of midnight Friday, halting all but the most essential operations and marring the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump's inauguration in a striking display of Washington dysfunction.

Last-minute negotiations crumbled as Senate Democrats blocked a four-week stopgap extension in a late-night vote, causing the fourth government shutdown in a quarter century. Behind the scenes, however, leading Republicans and Democrats were already moving toward a next step, trying to work out a compromise to avert a lengthy shutdown.

Since the shutdown began at the start of a weekend, many of the immediate effects will be muted for most Americans. But any damage could build quickly if the closure is prolonged. And it comes with no shortage of embarrassment for the president and political risk for both parties, as they wager that voters will punish the other at the ballot box in November.

Social Security and most other safety net programs are unaffected by the lapse in federal spending authority. Critical government functions will continue, with uniformed service members, health inspectors and law enforcement officers set to work without pay. But if no deal is brokered before Monday, hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be furloughed.

After hours of closed-door meetings and phone calls, the Senate scheduled its late-night vote on a House-passed plan. It gained 50 votes to proceed to 49 against, but 60 were needed to break a Democratic filibuster. A handful of red-state Democrats crossed the aisle to support the measure, rather than take a politically risky vote. Four Republicans voted in opposition.

In an unusual move, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allowed the roll call to exceed 90 minutes — instead of the usual 20 or so — and run past midnight, seemingly accommodating the numerous discussions among leaders and other lawmakers. Still as midnight passed and the calendar turned, there was no obvious off-ramp to the political stalemate.

Even before the vote, Trump was pessimistic, tweeting that Democrats actually wanted the shutdown "to help diminish the success" of the tax bill he and fellow Republicans pushed through last month. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders later termed the Democrats "obstructionist losers."

Democrats balked on the measure in an effort to pressure on the White House to cut a deal to protect "dreamer" immigrants — who were brought to the country as children and are now here illegally — before their legal protection runs out in March.

The president watched the results from the White House residence, dialing up allies and affirming his belief that Democrats would take the blame for the shutdown, said a person familiar with his conversations but not authorized to discuss them publicly.

Predictably, both parties moved swiftly to blame each other. Democrats laid fault with Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress and the White House and have struggled with building internal consensus. Republicans declared Democrats responsible, after they declined to provide the votes needed to overcome a filibuster over their desire to force the passage of legislation to protect some 700,000 younger immigrants from deportation.

Republicans branded the confrontation a "Schumer shutdown" and argued that Democrats were harming fellow Americans to protect "illegal immigrants." Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said a "Trump shutdown" was more accurate.

Earlier Friday, Trump had brought Schumer to the White House in hopes of cutting a deal on a short-term spending agreement.

The two New Yorkers, who pride themselves on their negotiating abilities, started talking over cheeseburgers about a larger agreement that would have included greater military spending and money for a southern border wall.

But the talks fell apart almost as abruptly as they started. In a phone call hours later, the president raised new concerns about the deal he and Schumer had discussed, according to a person familiar with the conversation. In a subsequent phone call with Schumer, chief of staff John Kelly said the deal discussed was too liberal. The White House did not immediately comment on that account.

Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told CNN that "not much has changed" over the course of the day, but he predicted a deal would be reached by Monday, when most government offices are to reopen after the weekend.

Democrats in the Senate had served notice they would filibuster the government-wide funding bill that cleared the House Thursday evening. They were seeking an even shorter extension that they think would keep the pressure on the White House to cut a deal to protect the "dreamer" immigrants.

"We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands," Sanders said in a statement.

Trump first described his discussion with Schumer as an "excellent preliminary meeting," tweeting that lawmakers were "making progress - four week extension would be best!" But that optimism faded as the evening wore on. 

Trump had been an unreliable negotiator in the weeks leading up to the showdown. Earlier this week he tweeted opposition to the four-week plan, forcing the White House to later affirm his support. He expressed openness to extending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, only to reject a bipartisan proposal. His disparaging remarks about African and Haitian immigrants last week helped derail further negotiations.

Coos County Sheriff’s Office partnership makes new radios possible

COQUILLE — Deteriorating radio systems have sparked a partnership between the Coos County Sheriff’s Office and the Coos Forest Protective Association.

“Coos Forest protection has a simulcast in Coos County, so we’re not the only ones with a simulcast. So we began to discuss combining of systems,” Capt. Kelley Andrews said.  

A plan was drafted and presented to county commissioners to split costs and meet the radio needs of the two agencies. Plans begin with a land study to be done by the Oregon Department of Forestry to test how radio signals will fair in the more rugged terrain in the county.

The study was approved by Coos County Commissioners on Thursday to the sum of $3,900. CFPA will pay back the county for its share of the study. 

Currently the sheriff’s office’s outdated radio system only provides deputies with 67 percent of the coverage they need countywide. When it was installed, the simulcast covered 98 percent of the county. The current radio system has been in place since 2004. Parts for the county’s current system are no longer being manufactured, causing the sheriff’s office to seek out radio parts on web sites like EBay.  

“The system is failing. It’s been failing for quite a while we’ve actually gone for long periods up to eight months on backup systems because parts couldn’t be found. Our guys are getting out of their patrol vehicles north of the McCullough Bridge and they can’t get out on their portable radios at all,” Andrews said.

The sheriff’s office has received complaints from four rural fire departments that use the county’s simulcast system that can’t communicate with the dispatch center and have missed calls.

The largest cost will be replacing dispatch consoles which the sheriff’s office believes will cost around $700,000. What the actual cost of necessary equipment will be is uncertain until after ODF conducts their study.

CFPA also has an older system, their simulcast covers 90 percent of the forest land they cover. Combining systems would double the amount of towers that the two organizations have access to.

“We would fill in gaps where they need coverage and they would fill in gaps where we need coverage. The bottom line is we will be able to do it cheaper and more efficiently,” Andrews said.

CFPA District Manager Mike Robison wants to develop a system that allows his association and the county to leverage off of each other to create as simple of a system as possible. Doubling the amount of towers available in each system doesn’t necessarily provide more coverage and could just make the whole system much more complex. Robison hopes that the study will show a simpler route to get the same amount of coverage.

 “The county’s needs are the roads and our needs are the roads, but we also have the back country where we fight fire up in the hills. My hope is that some of those towers go away and it becomes less, but we still have big coverage. The idea is we both have to have stable systems for fire fighter and police people,” Robison said.

Based on the ODF study reports the new system may have more signal sites or it may have less sites the goal of both agencies is to make the new system as comprehensive as possible.

The new system will be an IP system, which is still analog. Both the county and CFPA have read a number of horror stories about top of the line digital systems failing. Most notably they referenced an article out of Deschutes County where the seven police unions in that county have filed a safety claim against local leaders because they feel the technology putting people in danger

“IP isn’t new. So it’s not the newest greatest chasing technology system. Its proven technology that’s more flexible than the current T-1 systems…IP is newer technology but it’s not new technology,” Robison said.

The newer IP system will allow the sheriff’s office GPS coordinates for both its 100 watt in vehicle radios and its 20 watt portable radios held by every officer.

“By simply using a radio signal it puts out a GPS coordinate and we’ll actual be able to bring it up on a monitor tracking all the vehicles in real time anywhere in the county,” Andrews said.