Klamath Basin News, Christmas Weekend Edition, 12/24 – Snow and Cold Temps To Hit Klamath Basin, Tough Driving Conditions Expected for Travelers

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Friday, December 24, 2021, Christmas Eve

Klamath Basin Weather

Today Patchy blowing snow this afternoon. Steady temperature around 30. Breezy, with a southwest wind 15 to 23 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. Total daytime snow accumulation of 1 to 3 inches possible. Overnight a chance of snow showers. Low around 22. New overnight snow accumulation of 2 to 4 inches possible.

Saturday, Christmas Day A chance of snow showers before 10am, then snow likely between 10am and 4pm, then snow showers after 4pm. High near 31. South southwest wind 6 to 11 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New snow accumulation of less than one inch possible. Overnight more snow flurries with a low around 19, gusts as high as 20 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of 1 to 2 inches possible.
Sunday Snow showers. High near 31. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of 2 to 4 inches possible. More snow flurries overnight, with a low around 20 degrees. New snow accumulation of 2 to 4 inches possible.
Monday A 40% chance of snow showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 29. New snow accumulation of less than one inch possible. Cloudy overnight with a low around 5 degrees.
Tuesday A slight chance of snow showers after 10am. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 23. A chance of snow overnight with a low around 5 degrees.
Wednesday Partly sunny, with a high near 25. An overnight low around 3.
Thursday A slight chance of snow showers. Mostly sunny, with a high near 25.

See Road Camera Views

Hiway 97 at GreenSprings Dr. (Bi-pass)
Lake of the Woods   
Doak Mtn.   
Hiway 97 at Chemult   
Hiway 140 at  Bly       
Hiway 97 at LaPine

Today’s Headlines

Winter Storm Watch

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Holiday Travel Could be very Difficult.

Anyone with Travel Plans in and out the the Klamath Basin Should Stay Aware of the Latest Weather Information and Have Alternative Travel Plans, or Delay Travel, if Possible. Monitor the Latest Forecasts for Updates on this Situation.

If you do need to travel for the holiday, particularly if you’re going over the passes, ODOT recommends doing the following before and during your trip:

  • Know before you go. Visit tripcheck.com and see road conditions along your route, start to finish.
  • Remember that many tripcheck.com cameras include temperature, elevation and other critical details about road conditions.
  • Drive for conditions. If encountering rain, mud, snow, ice or extra traffic be sure to slow down and give extra space for stopping.
  • Keep your vehicle in good operating shape, checking brakes, lights, tires and wipers regularly.
  • Watch out for bicyclists and pedestrians. In wintry conditions, visibility drops.
  • Pay attention to roadside message signs. They contain critical information about conditions on the road ahead.
  • Be patient, wear your seat belt, pay attention to conditions and keep a sober driver behind the wheel to help ensure a safe arrival for holiday activities.

Caltrans is actively discouraging travel through higher elevations due to the predictions for a series of storms bringing rain, wind, and heavy mountain snow. Chain controls are likely to be in place for mountain passes and high-elevation areas, and Caltrans has said that travelers must carry chains, be prepared for winter driving conditions, expect delays and possible closures, and follow instructions from Caltrans crews and law enforcement.

“Motorists who do not comply with chain control endanger their own safety and the safety of other motorists around them,” Caltrans said. “They also jeopardize our vital maintenance operations.”

Truck and possibly vehicle screening is likely to happen for northbound I-5 traffic at Fawndale Road, about ten miles north of Redding, once the weather hits.

A winter storm system last week resulted in transportation officials shutting down I-5 from Ashland to Redding overnight due to heavy snow and disabled vehicles. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that this could happen again. At the very least, the south end of Ashland will likely become a chain-up area for traffic heading over the Siskiyou Summit.

Everyone’s snow dances appear to be working just in time for the holidays — signs point to very chilly, white Christmas for Klamath Falls this year. And the week ahead will be extremely cold with snow in the forecast for several days.

For Klamath Falls, NWS forecast an 80% chance of snow (one to three inches) on Christmas Eve and a 70% chance of snow (less than one inch) on Christmas Day. Snow showers are “likely” heading into Sunday and Monday, as temperatures begin to drop further. Drivers should be well-prepared before heading out — or stay home as much as possible.

Oregon Department of Transportation plows will be out on I-5 and major highways, but the agency acknowledges that their staffing shortages may delay response times.

If you do need to travel for the holiday, particularly if you’re going over the passes, ODOT recommends doing the following before and during your trip:

  • Know before you go. Visit tripcheck.com and see road conditions along your route, start to finish.
  • Remember that many tripcheck.com cameras include temperature, elevation and other critical details about road conditions.
  • Drive for conditions. If encountering rain, mud, snow, ice or extra traffic be sure to slow down and give extra space for stopping.
  • Keep your vehicle in good operating shape, checking brakes, lights, tires and wipers regularly.
  • Watch out for bicyclists and pedestrians. In wintry conditions, visibility drops.
  • Pay attention to roadside message signs. They contain critical information about conditions on the road ahead.
  • Be patient, wear your seat belt, pay attention to conditions and keep a sober driver behind the wheel to help ensure a safe arrival for holiday activities.

Additional winter weather safety tips and resources

One person died and four others were injured in a Wednesday evening crash on an icy stretch of Highway 97 in Klamath County.

According to Oregon State Police, Yuriel Lucatero Campos, 33, of San Ysidro, Calif., lost control about 5:30 p.m. while driving northbound in a Honda minivan along with four passengers. 

About five miles north of the Silver Lake Road, Campos’s vehicle crossed into oncoming lanes and was struck head-on by a southbound International truck driven by Christopher Lucio, 46, of Tulare, Calif.

A 7-year-old boy in the minivan, who was not identified by police, died at the scene. Lucatero Campos and four others were taken to Sky Lakes Medical Center, Klamath Falls, with injuries. The truck driver was uninjured.

Highway 97 was restricted to one lane of travel for six hours, according to OSP, who was assisted at the scene by Chiloquin Fire and Rescue and ODOT.

A local registered nurse had her license suspended by the state nursing board after failing to pay a fine imposed on her after inappropriately accessing a family member’s medical records with malicious intent. 

Jessica Fraley, a registered nurse in Klamath Falls, had her license suspended by the Oregon State Board of Nursing for 90 days after she failed to pay a $2,500 civil penalty levied on her by the board. Fraley was penalized after it was discovered she accessed a family member’s medical records with the intent of using the information maliciously, an OSBN report showed. 

Another OSBN report showed Fraley went to the board in June 2020 and reported that she inappropriately accessed the family member’s records. “(Fraley) acknowledged she did not have proper authorization to access the medical record and did not have a medical ‘need to know,'” the report said. “Licensee resigned her employment in lieu of termination.” 

After investigating the matter, the board voted to approve an order on Dec. 9, 2020, reprimanding Fraley and requiring her to pay a $2,500 civil penalty. The penalty was due ten 10 days after the board presided over the order, the report said. 

The Klamath Farmers Online Marketplace, which connects Klamath Basin food producers to local customers, is going on hiatus for the winter. The virtual farmers market’s last pickup was Thursday, Dec. 23.

Twenty local producers, including small-scale farmers, ranchers and bakers, sell their products through the virtual grocery store, which organizes weekly pickups to distribute the food to customers. Many of those products are available year-round.

Katie Swanson, who owns Sweet Union Farm in Klamath Falls and helps run KFOM with several other local producers, said temporarily closing the market was a tough, but necessary decision . She said KFOM leadership will spend the next few months figuring out how to make the project more sustainable in the long run.

Peter Michael Shepherd

A former narcotics detective and current reserve officer for the Malin Police Department was arrested Tuesday after a drug task force found roughly 1,200 illegal marijuana plants growing on his property outside Dairy

Peter Michael Shepherd, 63, who goes by the name Mike Shepherd, faces felony charges of unlawful manufacture of marijuana and “engaging in a financial transaction in property derived from unlawful activity,” according to Klamath County District Attorney Eve Costello.

Eric Smith, 41, who allegedly leased Shepherd’s property to grow the drug without permits, was also arrested Tuesday afternoon at the Malin City Hall by the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office. Smith faces the same charges as Shepherd. 

Shepherd has a long career in local law enforcement. He ran for Klamath County Sheriff in 2012 and worked as a civilian at Kingsley Field until 2016 in the information protection and human resource divisions. He also worked for the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office from 1990 to 2004 as a marine deputy, patrol officer, civil deputy and narcotics detective, among other positions. Since 2007, he has worked part-time for the Malin Police Department.

A conviction on both of the Class C felonies could result in a total of ten years in prison, a fine up to $250,000, or both.

Oregon’s Congressional delegation has secured another $10 million in federal aid for the Klamath Project.

Though irrigators would rather have water for Christmas, the money is still a welcome gift. This appropriation, secured by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Representative Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario), is in addition to the $30 million in financial assistance already directed to project producers this summer.

It comes through a $210 million supplemental appropriations package awarded to the Bureau of Reclamation by recent government funding legislation.

Paul Simmons, executive director of Klamath Water Users Association, said the latest money will likely help fund the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency if it operates in 2022. The KPDRA has already begun issuing checks to eligible project producers that didn’t irrigate land in 2021, so irrigators won’t see those amounts increase thanks to the new pot of money. But Simmons said this may be the first time the KPDRA is heading into irrigation season with money already in the bank. The KPDRA is currently entitled to a separate $10 million fund each year thanks to federal authorizations, but it cannot access the money without a yearly appropriation from Congress.

Reclamation’s spending plan for its latest windfall essentially unlocked a $10 million advance for drought relief.

Oregon hospitals are anticipating a hospitalization surge as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly, including locally operated Sky Lakes Medical Center.

As noted in President Joe Biden’s announcement earlier this week, vaccinated Americans are being given the “OK” by the administration to move forward with their holiday plans, while unvaccinated Americans are being warned that they are at a high risk of infection if they choose to interact in close proximity with others during the holidays. Local hospitals are aware that the Omicron variant is spreading and are preparing for a surge.

Sky Lakes Medical Center’s Public Information Officer, Thomas Hottman says the latest data is being closely monitored. He adds the number of positive test results is also creeping up Hottman says at the same time, recently, there has been an increase in hospitalizations unrelated to Covid-19 illness, but professional medical staff are being trusted to handle the demand of patients while caring for their personal health as well.

The Salvation Army distribution center in Klamath Falls was bustling Wednesday with the happy shuffle of dozens of community members distributing and receiving donated toys and food.

A line of folks waiting to receive bags of toys, boxes of food or both made footprints through the light accumulation of snow in the parking lot.

Those receiving the donated items entered one half of the distribution center to pick up toys, if they signed up for it, and then proceeded to the other side to get a box of food containing two whole chickens, a bag of potatoes, bread rolls and a multitude of dry goods.

The local Salvation Army — celebrating its 100th Christmas in Klamath Falls — prepped about 475 boxes of food and about 1,700 toys, potentially much more, said Jeff Mueller, a case worker with the organization. The toys were collected via giving trees throughout town while money for the food was sourced throughout the community.

Meantime, United Way officials on Tuesday announced that the organization has raised $409,700 — or 82% — of its $501,000 Community Campaign goal as 2021 comes to a close.

“This is crunch time for all nonprofit organizations and institutions trying to raise funds for their program services. It’s an especially critical time for our local United Way because the health and welfare of thousands of local citizens young and elderly will directly be impacted by the success of our campaign,” said Leroy Cabral, United Way executive director.

The United Way of the Klamath Basin Community Campaign supports 16 local social service agencies that together provide services to an estimated 20,000 local people.

Contributions can be sent to United Way of the Klamath Basin at 136 N. Third Street in Klamath Falls, OR 97601.

Similar to Klamath County, a measure championed by the ‘Citizens for Greater Idaho’ group will appear on Douglas County ballots in May of 2022 after the County Clerk’s office verified that their petition had enough valid signatures.

According to the group, Douglas County Clerk Dan Loomis validated 3,003 signatures on the petition, certifying it as Measure 10-185 on the May ballot.

If approved by the voters, Douglas County’s measure would amend a 1997 ordinance so that county funds could be used “to advocate, oppose, and provide information on Federal and State, and State of Idaho, legislation, regulations, and administrative rules that affect the county” — and subsequent, similar changes for County employees. Douglas County voters had a chance to vote on a non-binding measure on whether they’d like to pursue the “Greater Idaho” plan in November of 2020, and they soundly rejected the matter.

“Greater Idaho” president Mike McCarter downplayed the outcome on Wednesday as the result of limited funding and campaigning.

Around the state of Oregon

Looking for a vaccine booster shot in Oregon?

Contact your provider | Find a high-volume vaccination site on our blog (see new holiday hours added for your convenience) | Call 211 or 1-866-698-6155, toll-free, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, including holidays | For more help, or to be connected to an in-home vaccination or booster, text ORCOVID to 898211 (English and Spanish) or email ORCOVID@211info.org | Search the locator map at GetVaccinated.Oregon.gov.
Looking for a test?Here’s a list of free test sites across the state.

There are eight new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 5,598, OHA reported today.  

OHA reported 1,350 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 as today bringing the state total to 410,565. 

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (3), Benton (24), Clackamas (114), Clatsop (9), Columbia (19), Coos (17), Crook (5), Curry (3), Deschutes (106), Douglas (27), Gilliam (1), Harney (1), Hood River (6), Jackson (104), Jefferson (5), Josephine (35), Klamath (10), Lake (1), Lane (76), Lincoln (2), Linn (43), Malheur (7), Marion (109), Morrow (7), Multnomah (345), Polk (28), Sherman (1), Tillamook (6), Umatilla (25), Union (7), Wallowa (3), Wasco (3), Washington (164) and Yamhill (34). 

OHA’s most recent update on COVID-19 “breakthrough cases”, (those people who were vaccinated but still got Covid-19) released today, found that there were 5,388 cases of COVID-19 reported during the week of Dec, 12 to Dec. 18, Of those cases, 3,806, or 70.3 % were unvaccinated people and 1,582 or 29.4% were vaccine breakthrough cases. 

The average age of the breakthrough cases during that period was 40. Sixteen breakthrough cases involved residents of care facilities, senior living communities or other congregate care settings. There were 73 cases in people aged 12 to 17. 

To date, there have been 50,882 COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough cases in Oregon. The average age of all cases is 47. Breakthrough cases have been reported in all 36 counties. 

There are 59 available adult ICU beds out of 673 total (9% availability) and 269 available adult non-ICU beds out of 4,135 (7% availability).

Increased Emergency SNAP Benefits Continue in January 

  • Most Oregonians who receive SNAP benefits will continue to receive increased emergency food benefits in January
  • Approximately 382,000 SNAP households will receive approximately $61 million in extra food benefits in addition to their regular SNAP benefits
  • Find resources to meet your basic needs: Dial 2-1-1, or text your zip code to 898-211, www.211info.org 
  • Oregon Department of Human Services COVID-19 help center 

(Salem) – Most Oregonians who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will receive emergency allotments in January. 

The federal government has approved emergency allotments every month since March 2020. This gives SNAP recipients additional support during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In January, approximately 382,000 SNAP households will receive approximately $61 million in extra food benefits in addition to their regular SNAP benefits.

Illegal Marijuana Raid In Josephine County

On Tuesday, December 22, 2021, the Josephine Marijuana Enforcement Team (JMET) executed a search warrant for allegations of an illegal quantity of marijuana in an O’Brien residence.  The search warrant was executed at a residence located in the 100 block of O’Brien Road. 

During the execution of the search warrant, approximately 300 pounds of marijuana was located and seized. Firearms and methamphetamine were located and seized as well.  A stolen vehicle located on the property was seized to be returned to its rightful owner. 

A 55-year-old male was arrested and lodged at the Josephine County Jail for Unlawful Delivery, Possession and Manufacture of Marijuana as well as Unlawful Possession of Methamphetamine.  A 33-year-old female was arrested and lodged at the Josephine County Jail for Unlawful Delivery of Marijuana.  No further details are being released at this time.  Josephine Co. Sheriff’s Office

Sadly, Missing Grants Pass Woman Has Been Found Deceased

A post on Facebook Thursday night announced that Rachael has been found and is “no longer with us.”

Out of respect for the Behnke family, Rachael’s brother announced in a video that further details would not be shared at this time. Our Thoughts and Prayers go out for the Family and Community.

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Grants Pass, OR. – Late on Thursday, December 23, 2021, the Grants Pass Police Department discovered Rachael Behnke deceased in her white Ford Explorer in a rural portion of Josephine County. She was the lone occupant of the vehicle that was parked off Highway 199 near Selma.

Rachael Behnke had originally been reported missing on Friday, December 10th after last being seen dropping off her child at school in Grants Pass. Report of the discovery was withheld until today at the request of the family. 

Our hearts go out to the grieving family during this holiday season. We also want to thank all those who assisted in looking for Rachael over the last two weeks. Grants Pass Police Department 

Mass Casualty Crash on Hwy 58 Near Dexter

According to the Dexter Fire Department, five people were transported to the hospital following a crash on Highway 58, milepost 14 near Dexter Thursday night.

Reports of the crash came in around 5:30 p.m. According to the fire department, one semi and about 5 other cars were involved. Five were taken to the hospital, four of which were in critical condition. 

Because of the number of people injured and the number of ambulances that responded, the fire department classifies this as a ”mass casualty” event, however, no fatalities have been confirmed. 

Eugene-Springfield Fire responded as well with 3 ambulances and a battalion chief.

As of 8:40 p.m. one lane was back open. Traffic is being flagged through the area so proceed with caution.

This is a developing story and is still under investigation. 

Teenage Girl Dies After Crashing Into Tree in Coos County

Oregon State Police and emergency personnel responded to the single vehicle crash on Highway 242 shortly before 5 a.m.  A 15-year-old girl died in the traffic crash in Coos County early Thursday morning.

The preliminary investigation indicated that a southbound silver Mazda driven by a 16-year-old girl from Broadbent, left the roadway and struck a tree. The crash is under investigation.

The juvenile driver was transported to Coquille Valley Hospital and later life-flighted to Riverbend Hospital in Eugene by the U.S. Coastguard with serious injuries. Her 15-year-old female passenger died in the crash.

The crash happened on Highway 242 at milepost 1. The roadway is also known as Powers Highway.

OSP was assisted by Myrtle Point Police, Myrtle Point Fire and Rescue, Myrtle Point Ambulance, U.S. Coastguard, Southern Oregon Chaplains and ODOT.

Grants Pass Man Arrested for Online Luring of a Minor

Bill Huffman

On Monday, December 6, 2021, the Grants Pass Police Department responded to a report of an adult male subject having sexual conversations with a 14-year-old female online.  The conversation was provided to law enforcement and the investigation continued. 

The investigation revealed that Bill Huffman (age 60) was the individual corresponding with the juvenile female.  On Thursday, December 23, 2021, detectives with the Grants Pass Police Department contacted Huffman at his place of employment. 

Detectives seized several cell phones during the course of the investigation which will undergo forensic analysis upon approval of a search warrant.  Huffman was lodged at the Josephine County Jail for Luring a Minor, Online Sexual Corruption of a Child in the 2nd Degree, and a Probation Violation for a previous conviction for Attempted Sexual Abuse in the 1st Degree.

The Grants Pass Police Department would like to remind the public to carefully monitor your children’s activity on social media and explain to children the dangers of communicating with unknown persons online.   Grants Pass Police Department 

Governor Kate Brown announced on Tuesday that she has extended her state of emergency declaration for the coronavirus, saying that it provides needed flexibility for facing an anticipated surge of the Omicron variant.

In a press conference with Governor Brown and state officials last week, OHSU lead data scientist Dr. Peter Graven predicted that the Omicron variant could surpass Delta in hospitalizations due to its apparent extreme transmissibility.

Brown’s office said that the emergency declaration provides the necessary framework to mobilize resources in the state’s COVID-19 response, allowing the deployment of medical providers to hospitals, providing flexibility around professional health licensing, and ensuring that Oregon can continue to access federal disaster relief funds.

The extended emergency declaration, Executive Order 21-36, will remain in effect until June 30 of 2022 unless extended or rescinded.

Brown rescinded a number of executive orders governing COVID-19 restrictions at the end of June this year, but left the emergency declaration in place. This was before the Delta variant surged over the summer.

A Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office jail deputy is pleading guilty to official misconduct for stealing blank vaccination cards.

Court records show 50-year-old Robert Haney was accused of stealing the cards in May and filling two of them out with false information. A search found the cards in his house. Haney will serve six month’s probation, resign from his position at the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, lose his Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training certification and pay a 500-dollar fine.

Oregon State University says it will “likely” require students and employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports the school has already mandated the initial doses of the vaccine. OSU says the booster requirement isn’t official, but urged students, faculty and staff to seek out the additional shot over the holiday break.

On Monday, the University of Oregon announced it will require booster doses for students and staff, but it did not set a deadline to comply. And the University of Washington says it will implement remote learning for the first week of the winter quarter in January because of growing concerns about the highly-contagious omicron variant.

Several other schools across the country are taking similar measures in the face of the highly-contagious variant, including DePaul, Harvard and Stanford universities.

Willamette University is moving most of its larger classes online to start next semester. University officials announced the move yesterday, citing ongoing concerns with the omicron variant for the change.

Willamette says most large classes will go online for at least the first two weeks to give students and staff time to test themselves for positive cases after traveling over winter break. Lab, studio and field-based classes will remain in person.

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