Two young Bend men were arrested Wednesday on manslaughter, assault, reckless driving and other charges, accused of racing their cars at up to 120 mph on a narrow, twisting road east of town early on Aug. 9. A third car that also was involved spun into an oncoming lane on a curve and smashed into a minivan, a fiery crash that killed two Bend High School students and seriously injured the minivan’s driver.
The youths were fleeing after police responded to a complaint and broke up street races held each weekend at an intersection called “Four Corners,” five miles east of Alfalfa, in Crook County. Authorities stressed that they were not being pursued by officers.
Deschutes County sheriff’s deputies arrested Randall Scott Clifford, 20, and David Allen Black, 19, after a nearly 5-month investigation by the sheriff’s office, aided by Bend police and accident reconstruction experts with the Oregon State Police. A grand jury indictment issued Tuesday led warrants for their arrest.
Clifford, at the wheel of a 1991 Accura Integra that fateful night, and Black, who was driving a 1992 Honda Prelude, each face felony charges of second-degree manslaughter and third-degree assault, along with reckless driving and five counts of recklessly endangering another person. Black also is accused of failure to perform the duties of a driver involved in an accident.
Both were lodged at the county jail on $250,000 bail.
Killed that night were the driver of a 1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse, Danielle Lenae O’Neil (Gates), 16, a Bend High senior, and her passenger, Stephanie Marie Beeksma, a sophomore who had turned 15 just a week earlier. The driver of the 1989 Plymouth minivan, Katie Joann Reznick, 19, of Sisters, was seriously injured.
The sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the crash, which occurred five miles east of Bend. Anyone who saw or has information related to the incident was asked to contact sheriff’s Deputy Robert Short at 388-6655.
Short outlined in a news release Wednesday night what investigators determined to have occurred:
Around 11:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 8, a large group gathered at the intersection known as “Four Corners.” Less than 10 minutes later, Deschutes County deputies received a complaint of speeding vehicles eastbound on Alfalfa Market Road and responded to investigate. They checked the road to the Crook County line and didn’t find the vehicles, so Deschutes 911 dispatchers notified the Crook County Sheriff’s Office of the complaint, and a Crook County deputy was dispatched to check the area east of Alfalfa.
More than 50 cars were at street race
Witnesses to the street racing at Four Corners estimated more than 50 vehicles were gathered at the location, some actively engaged in races and others as spectators. The witnesses said the races were about ¼ mile in length, with two vehicles racing side by side, starting from a stop and using both lanes of the east-west road.
A few minutes after midnight on Aug. 9, the Crook County sheriff’s deputy arrived in the area and saw the gathering, though the deputy did not witness any races, Short said. The deputy drove through the group of parked vehicles and stopped just west of the intersection.
At that point, the group scattered in several directions, with most of the cars heading west toward Bend. Some participants and spectators stayed at the scene, however, and spoke with the deputy.
Three of the vehicles leaving the scene and returning to Bend allegedly engaged in reckless driving, Short said, traveling at up to 120 mph at times while trying to pass each other on the dark, narrow road. Clifford was alone, while Black had three men in his car, the deputy said.
Short said that the manslaughter charge related to Beeksma’s death and the assault charge involved the injuries suffered by Reznick. He said he couldn’t comment on details of the investigation, but acknowledged that O’Neil was not listed as a victim and the other drivers were not charged in her death. That presumably indicates that authorities decided she had shared culpability in the circumstances leading to her death.
State law says second-degree manslaughter, a Class B felony, occurs when a person “recklessly” causes another’s death.
Short said Black faced the added charge of failure to perform the duties of a driver involved in an accident because he “left the scene before law enforcement arrived.”
Sadly, Short said investigators also determined that several race participants and spectators drove by the crash scene, moments after it happened – and most left before police arrived.
Shortly after the crash, sheriff’s officers said there were no initial indication that street racing was going at the time (bendbugle.com/?p=10926). But it can take time for a fuller picture to emerge.
“This is not an easy investigation, and by no means is it over,” Short said Wednesday. “But when you go to a scene like that, and a majority of people have left and not made themselves available for interviews … we had to track down witnesses, interview them and re-interview them. We didn’t know that night what really had happened.”
Also, Short explained. “A lot of people who were out there, witnesses who were just spectators at the races, were afraid of getting in trouble for even attending the races.”
Short said the young people involved in such races are aware they won’t be chased if they flee the scene.
“When we show up, we bust them and say, `It’s time to go home,'” he said. “We’re not going to get in a pursuit over street racing. Look at what happened – and that wasn’t even a pursuit.”
Asked if there was a broader message to be seen from the filing of charges in the case, Short said it’s simple: “From the law enforcement side, we’re going to investigate crashes, especially when people are seriously injured or killed, and we’re going to look at what caused the crash. That’s our responsibility – not only to the victims, but to the public.”
While the deadly crash “did certainly seem to cut down” on street races, Short said deputies responded to at least one or two later reports of racing. Still, the heartbreaking message of the tragedy itself apparently already has been learned, at least by some now-former participants in illegal street racing.
“I’ve talked to a few of the people involved, who I believe were sincere, who said: `I’m done. I’m not doing it any more,'” Short said. “Some have even sold their cars.”
So perhaps, the loss of two young lives and serious harm done to a third might help to prevent other deaths or serious injuries in the future. It will be hard, perhaps impossible to know for sure.