Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley started 2017 with two death cases to handle, and added two more during the month of January.
“It seems to cycle like this about every five or six years,” he said. “It’s so awful thinking about these poor people and their families. You wish you could go back, grab people and say, ‘Consequences, consequences, consequences – think before you do something!’”
On his desk is the case file involving the deaths of three people in a triple vehicle crash Dec. 26 along Highway 26 on the Warm Springs Reservation.
The investigation into the incident is almost complete, said Nisley. He expects to take findings from the investigation to the grand jury soon for a determination about whether he should proceed with prosecution of Nathan Vergaeghe, 31, of Spokane, Wash.
Vergaeghe was driving a black 2007 Chevrolet Malibu that reportedly struck the rear of a westbound vehicle on Highway 26, sending it into the eastbound lane.
The 2006 Toyota Matrix operated by Adam Clausen, 37, of Portland, was then hit by a white 2013 Chrysler van driven by Robert Burke 34, of Reno, Nev.
Killed at the scene was Burke, Clausen and his passenger, Shannon O’Leary, 39, also of Portland. Their 4-year-old child was transported to St. Charles Medical Center in Bend for treatment of minor injuries.
Clausen and O’Leary were physics professors who taught at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, said Nisley.
Also, transported to Bend for medical care was Burke’s wife, Rachel, 29, and their 22-month-old child, as well as Vergaeghe.
Highway 26 was closed for more than five hours following the crash for an Oregon State Police investigation, which determined that speed was likely a factor.
Nisley said he could not provide further comment on the case because it is a pending legal matter.
He is also dealing with another fatality accident, this one involving the arrest of driver, Cameron Crowel, 27, of Troutdale. Crowel has been charged with manslaughter for allegedly operating a black 2004 Nissan Maxima under the influence of alcohol and crashing, which killed his wife, Tanisha Crowel, 26.
Investigators concluded that Crowel had been traveling at a high rate of speed about 10:40 p.m. on Aug. 14, 2016, along Highway 30 near Mosier. He reportedly lost control on a corner, crossed into the oncoming lane, where his vehicle clipped a tree and then spun into a large tree.
Tanisha was pronounced dead at the scene and Cameron was Lifeflighted to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland for treatment of his injuries.
“The impact occurred on the passenger side of the vehicle but the Jaws of Life had to be used to remove the driver from the car,” said Wasco County Sheriff Lane Magill at the time of the incident.
“I’ve been in a lot of crashes over the years in law enforcement, this was probably the worst, most violent crash I’ve ever seen,” he said. “This was bad.”
Shortly after the wreck, Magill said the hospital did a preliminary blood draw, which showed signs of alcohol impairment.
Nisley said the Crowels had been at a wedding before Cameron made the judgement call to get behind the wheel of a vehicle. “It only takes a second to ruin the rest of your life and someone else’s life,” he said.
Crowel is due in Wasco County Circuit Court on Feb. 13 to enter a plea. He is represented by attorneys Matt Ellis and Richard Balsley of the gorge firm Morris, Starns and Sullivan.
Nisley began the new year with an alert about the death of a 34-year-old male inmate at the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facilities in The Dalles.
James Horrell was alone in his cell about 11:25 p.m. Jan. 1 when he was found unresponsive by a corrections deputy.
On-duty staff performed CPR on Horrell until medics from Mid-Columbia Fire & Rescue arrived. He was then transported by ambulance to Mid-Columbia Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead about 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 2.
Horrell, who resided in The Dalles, had been jailed on Dec. 30 on methamphetamine possession and delivery charges, and for a probation violation.
An autopsy determined that he died of natural causes related to a heart problem, said Nisley.
The final days of January rolled around with the fatal stabbing of Nathaniel O. Preyapongpisan, 21, at a Liberty Street residence.
Arrested Jan. 27 in connection with the death is Zoey Austin Pike, 21, who had been charged with murder and is being held in NORCOR without bail.
Nisley confirmed that a conflict had occurred between Preyapongpisan and Pike on Jan. 26 at the home of an unknown female.
Because legal proceedings are underway, he declined to provide information about the nature of the disagreement.
Pike was taken into custody without incident at the Liberty Street address after the stabbing. He was treated for non-life threatening injuries at MCMC before being taken to jail.
Nisley said a knife was recovered at the scene and is now being held in evidence. He said no other weapons were found.
An autopsy determined that Preyapongpisan’s cause of death was a stab wound.
Pike is being represented by attorneys Balsley and Brian Starns. He will appear in court for a status check on Feb. 22
“These pending cases are labor intensive and emotional draining; it’s all completely senseless and sad,” said Nisley.