Driver crashes into Oregon homeless camp, killing 4

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A driver crashed his car into a homeless encampment in Salem, Oregon, killing four people and injuring three others, including the driver

Police arrested Enrique Rodriguez Jr., 24, on Sunday evening. Rodriguez was charged with four counts of first degree manslaughter, second and third degree assault and six counts of reckless endangerment.

In a statement, authorities said the Salem Police Traffic Crew believe “alcohol may have been a contributing factor” to the accident.

It was not immediately clear if Rodriguez had retained the services of an attorney.

Nathan Rose tells the Salem Statesman Journal that he and his girlfriend were in their tent when they heard two loud bangs. The car narrowly missed their tent, Rose said.

Rose said he saw some of his friends trapped under the car and called 911. He said he helped pull one person out from under the car, but witnesses were unable to help the others.

“From there it was just chaos,” Rose told the newspaper.

Police said in a statement Sunday afternoon that the driver was the sole occupant of the two-door sports coupe.

The crash happened around 2 a.m. Sunday near a new men’s shelter, which has beds for about 300 people, and a program that provides emergency housing assistance and other services for homeless.

The camp is a small triangle of trees and grass, not far from the Willamette River.

Two people who were at the camp died at the scene. Four others were taken to Salem Health with life-threatening injuries and two died in hospital. The driver was also taken to hospital.

Authorities have not released the names of the victims or the conditions of those who remain hospitalized.

Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, said homeless people spend much of their day trying to find a safe place to sleep and rest, “but events like this remind us that there is no safe space”.

The crash comes after police in Washington, DC arrested a man earlier this month on suspicion of stalking and shooting sleeping homeless people on the streets of New York and the nation’s capital.

“Nobody deserves to have to live in unprotected conditions and they certainly don’t deserve to die there,” Jones said. “Tragedies like this will continue until this nation makes a serious commitment to the idea that housing is a human right and that everyone deserves a warm, safe, dry place to live in the dignity.”

More than 1,000 people sleep outdoors in the Salem area each night, the newspaper reported. The city has more than 175,000 residents, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

Mike Wade came to camp after hearing that a close friend of his had passed away. He helped other people in the camp recover their belongings and prayed for the victims.

“It makes me weaker every day hearing about us dying one by one,” Wade said. “My friends are dead and I don’t know what to say.”

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