June 26, 2022

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Emotions boil over as driver is charged with killing 4 in crash at homeless camp

Prosecutors allege the suspect had a .26% blood-alcohol level.

An alleged drunk driver accused of killing four people when his sports car slammed into a Salem, Oregon, homeless camp was ordered to be jailed without bail during an emotional hearing that included courtroom outbursts from loved ones of those killed and from one of his own relatives.

Enrique Rodriguez Jr., 24, was arraigned on four counts of felony manslaughter and driving under the influence stemming from the crash early Sunday that also left two people hospitalized with severe injuries.

Prosecutors said that following the wreck, tests showed that Rodriguez’s blood-alcohol level was .26%, well over the legal limit of .08%.

During Monday afternoon’s arraignment, relatives of victims asked Marion County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Gardiner to deny Rodriguez bail.

Emotions in the courtroom boiled over when Eduardo Zamacona, whose 29-year-old daughter Rochelle Zamacona was among those killed, was allowed to speak.

In an expletive-laced statement, Zamacona called Rodriguez a piece of “trash” and asked Gardiner to ensure he stays locked up to keep him from going “to Mexico or somewhere where we can’t take care of him.”

A man believed to be a relative of Rodriguez responded by calling Zamacona a “racist.”

Zamacona replied that he wished he “could kill” Rodriguez’s family. Rodriguez’s relative said, “I’m right here, brother.”

Gardiner called for order in the court, telling both men, “We’re not doing this. This is not happening, OK. Stop!”

The judge denied bail for Rodriguez and appointed him a public defender. In addition to the four first-degree manslaughter counts, Rodriguez is charged with second-degree assault, third-degree assault and reckless endangerment.

The episode unfolded at about 2 a.m. Sunday when Rodriguez’s sports car careened off a road, jumped a sidewalk and crashed into several tents, according to the Salem Police Department.

Two people were pronounced dead at the scene in northeast Salem and two others died after being taken to Salem Health Hospital, police said. Two other people believed to have been living in the homeless camp were hospitalized with injuries.

Rodriguez was the sole occupant of the car and was also taken to a hospital with injuries, police said.

Besides Zamacona, Salem police identified those killed as Jowand Beck, 24; Luke Kagey, 21; and Joe Posada III, 54.

Police said 43-year-old Derrick Hart and 18-year-old Savannah Miller were injured and remain in the hospital.

The homeless camp was on the property of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and just feet from a railroad track, according to ABC affiliate station KATU in Portland.

A KATU news crew reported on the same homeless camp about a week ago after neighboring business owners expressed frustrations over the city’s handling of the homeless problem.

ODOT decided March 17 to remove the camp from the property but first had to give the occupants of the camp 10 days to leave, meaning the earliest the state could have cleared the camp was Monday.

Following Monday’s court hearing, Rodriguez’s mother, Maria Arreze, tearfully told reporters, “My son’s not a murderer.”

Arreze partially blamed the city of Salem for the tragedy, saying, the homeless camp shouldn’t have been allowed to exist. She said if the homeless camp were not there, “My kid would hurt himself, only himself.”

“I think the city is accountable as well for this tragedy,” Arreze said.