Blake and Jonni Gray of Roberts Creek were headed to Portland Aug. 22 with plans to meet with their lawyer and begin stirring the pot to get Oregon's traffic laws “out of the dark ages.”
Their son, 22-year-old Connor Jordon, was killed July 16 after being struck by a driver at the intersection of Mission Street S.E. and Hawthorn Avenue S.E. in the city of Salem.
The driver, James Sinks, a spokesman for the Oregon State Treasury, was issued two traffic citations and a fine. No criminal charges were filed.
Gray had previously visited the scene of his stepson's death, when he was forced to retrieve Jordon's remains.
“I screamed my head off because [the road] is so straight and you can see that stop light so far away,” he said. “It could not be straighter.”
On Aug. 7 the Marion County district attorney's office announced that it would not be pursuing charges against Sinks.
Salem police issued two traffic tickets: failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, and failure to obey a traffic control device. Both are Class B violations under Oregon law.
Deputy district attorney Katie Saver made the announcement.
“Unless it is an intentional act of murder, then the homicide crimes that could apply would be criminally negligent homicide or manslaughter, which requires proof of reckless conduct,” she said. “What we look for is some intentional act by the driver that occurs prior to, or simultaneous with, the conduct.”
Sinks was not found to be intoxicated or speeding when the collision occurred.
Police responded at approximately 8:14 p.m. after Sinks had stopped his vehicle, rendered aid and called emergency crews. The public official remained on scene and cooperated with investigators.
But Sinks had run a red light, leading Gray to question the lack of negligence found in the case.
According to Saver, running the red light was not considered criminally negligent.
“People run red lights all the time because they're not paying attention, not because they're intentionally running a red light,” Saver said. “The conduct itself is negligent, but whether that rises to the level of criminal negligence is really a community standard and we don't really have any sort of comparative community standard.”
Whether or not Sinks struck Jordon that day, “it would be the same violation.”
For Jordon's family members who were expecting him home, it has been an impossible pill to swallow.
The young Vancouver resident had set out for Las Vegas on a 250cc Kawasaki motorcycle. He had stuck to the back roads on his trip to see family in the desert, satisfying his taste for adventure.
His stepfather was nervous throughout the trip, having taught Jordon the ins and outs of riding a motorbike. By the time word came to the family that he had reached Salem, that anxiety gave way to “he did it, he did it.”
Jordon went for a walk to get something to eat before resting up. He was expected to call home, but he didn't.
“It's going to be a hell of a fight,” Gray predicted. “You have to go to the top if you want to legislate something, get a law legislated. And I'm a Canadian. How much weight am I going to hold down there?”
In order to develop international pressure, Gray has been attempting to acquire allies in Oregon, making contact with traffic and pedestrian safety advocates and a city councillor.
But north of the border, the laws are not all that dissimilar. According to Crown counsel Trevor Cockfield, a similar situation could be possible under Canadian law.
“It depends whether or not we can prove dangerous driving. The Supreme Court of Canada has restricted dangerous driving charges quite significantly in the last couple of years so it's hard,” he explained. “We have to determine whether we would charge the person with a criminal offence of dangerous driving, or a motor vehicle offence of going through a red light, or driving without due care or attention.”