SALEM, Ore. — A driver crashed into a homeless camp in Salem and hit six people, four of whom died, Salem Police said.
The crash happened around 2 a.m. Sunday in the area of Front Street Northeast and Division Street Northeast. Authorities said on Sunday that a preliminary investigation suggested that the driver of a two-door sports coupe traveling northbound on Front Street crashed into a homeless encampment. The car pinned two people underneath. Salem police believe that alcohol was a factor in the crash.
Salem Police said two people died on the scene. Emergency responders took four people to Salem Health hospital with life-threatening injuries, and two of them later died at the hospital. Police released the names of the victims on Monday.
The driver, identified as Enrique Rodriguez, 24, was arrested by Salem police and has been charged with four counts of manslaughter in the first degree, a misdemeanor DUI charge, assault in the second degree, assault in the third degree and six counts of reckless endangerment.
Ryan Wright was living at the camp at the time of the crash. He said the car came so close to him, he could have reached out and touched it.
"All I remember is the screaming, pretty much," he said. "And we heard a pop and I look over and there is a car coming straight at us." He said some of his friends were the victims who died.
Authorities said that three people who lived at the camp were taken to a motel. Other uninjured campers had help in collecting their things and were provided with shelter assistance.
Wright said he moved near the intersection of Front and Division Streets after the city swept an encampment from Marion Square Park across the street from the accident. Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett said the camp was swept because it was a public health hazard.
The camp where the crash occurred was scheduled to be cleaned up this week.
"This was a sad event with a tragic outcome. This site on state transportation department property was slated for cleanup this coming Wednesday," said Bennett in an emailed statement. "We continue to encourage those living in illegal or unmanaged camping sites to move to safer locations that are available."
Bennett also said that Salem will continue to offer alternatives in, "safe sites that don't include our parks." He said after every clean-up, housing is offered, though few people take it.
The latest numbers show around 1,800 people in the Salem area are currently experiencing homelessness, according to Jimmy Jones with the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, a social services organization that helps those experiencing homelessness.
"We still don't have an answer for about 500 people who've been outside for a long time," Jones said. "Going back for years and years, we've had individuals struck by cars in those areas and it's one of the bigger ways the homeless population in the community have passed away in the past."
Streets in the area were closed for several hours while officers investigated the crash but those streets reopened by midday Sunday.