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Gunfire chases visitors out of park, neighbors out of homes

Of the Keizertimes

A hail of gunfire drove visitors out of Sunset Park and neighbors out of their homes along the Willamette River Sunday, Sept. 10.

The incident resulted in a throng of area residents turning out at the Keizer City Council meeting Monday, Sept. 18, to demand action on the part of the city. For now, it seems the only action to be taken is a sternly-worded letter to the owner of a quarry across the river who allows family, friends and even the Salem Police Department to use part of his property as a shooting range.

“I’ve been here 25 years and we’ve had complaints about the noise, but this is the first time it has ever risen to this level,” said Sgt. Greg Barber, the Keizer police officer who responded to reports of the shots.

Barber was unable to find any bullets in the park, but doesn’t doubt witnesses who fled from the riverbank who said bullets were whizzing overhead.

“I think there probably were bullets and it is a legitimate concern,” Barber said.

When the incident began residents told city councilors it was unlike anything experienced up to this point.

“I felt immediately that this was way different. Much louder and much more present,” Marilee Moore told the council. “I went over to our gate and people were literally running out of the park and down the road, and coming out of their houses in fear. People were very frightened.”

Lt. Andrew Copeland, of the Keizer Police Department, said Polk County had a boat in the water and arrived on the scene shortly after the first 9-1-1 calls.

“They anchored on the other side of the river and contacted five or six people who, at that point, were shooting shotguns with target load in it. That isn’t a problem and those shots wouldn’t travel across the river. When asked if they had been shooting an AR-15 (a semiautomatic rifle), the group led the Polk County officers to a car with an AR-15 inside,” Copeland said.

Officers could not prove the AR-15 had been fired or who had done so, but they suspect someone was using it to shoot at clay targets tossed into the air.

Copeland contacted the owner of the Northwest Rock, Lance Davis, who said he was unaware of the incident but pledged to talk with users of the shooting site about it. KPD Chief John Teague said, during the city council meeting, Davis was also open to re-orienting the range to face north instead of east across the river.

That solution didn’t sit well with Keizer resident Judy Schnurbusch who said she and her daughter were walking near the river several years ago when bullets came from the other side.

“When I reported it at that time, we were told that the owner was very cooperative,” Schnurbusch said.

Riverfront resident Darrell Richardson said another barrage of bullets happened just a few years ago.

“Once is a mistake. Twice is really bad news. If the city of Keizer can’t do something about it, I don’t know what to do,” Richardson said.

When Richardson asked whether a permit was need for such activity, Teague responded that it was not required.

“What I’m most concerned about is the fact that someone is going to get killed if something doesn’t get done. When the powers that be tell us no one would admit to using the gun, if someone had been killed would that be how this was handled?” asked Marge Smith.

Teague responded that if injury had occurred forensic testing would have been performed on the rifle and the group of shooters.

“What happened is you had a handful of guys shooting trap with shotguns and somebody had the harebrained idea to try it with a rifle,” Teague said.

Residents implored the council to send a letter to the owner of the quarry, but Keizer has no authority to do much else. Still, City Attorney Shannon Johnson said he wanted to act on the matter before the next city council meeting in October.

“I’m not a gun person, but it’s a pretty simple rule to know what is behind what you are shooting at,” Johnson said. “We will be moving quickly on this to the degree we can.”

Mayor Cathy Clark said the letter should address the issue of liability.

“There is a liability for that owner. I would think it’s important to drive that point home,” Clark said. “If the city of Salem is using that facility, they need to know that people using it have been irresponsible then they need to know they are being affiliated with such usage.”