UMATILLA COUNTY — The report of two murders in the span of 72 hours between Saturday, June 20, and Tuesday, June 23, marks the fourth and fifth homicides reported in Umatilla County already this year.
On the west end of the county, the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office is working alongside Oregon State Police to investigate an apparent homicide after Tracey Scott Medows, 29, of Hood River, was found dead June 20 with gunshot wounds while stopped in a truck at the intersection of Lamb Road and Interstate 82 outside of Hermiston.
On the east end, the Pendleton Police Department arrested William Harvey Butcher III, 28, on June 23 on one probable cause charge of second-degree murder for allegedly beating another man, whose identity authorities haven’t yet released, to death earlier that morning.
Both murders also occurred within 14 days of police initiating an investigation in Hermiston after Jesus Eli Lopez, 21, was found shot to death June 9 at a residence on East Francolin Avenue.
“There’s no linkage between the three separate crimes,” Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston said. “If there were a linkage then we’d all probably be singing a different tune rather than, in essence, just worrying about our own backyard.”
Though they aren’t believed to be connected, the murders this calendar year do appear to be a deviation from the norm.
No homicides were reported in Hermiston in 2019 and the city had been averaging just one reported homicide per year over the last 10 years. But now Hermiston police are investigating the murders of Medows and Lopez, along with the murder of Jordan Deloen Crandall, 28, who was found shot to death the morning of March 18 next to an irrigation ditch near Alpine Drive and Punkin Center Road.
The investigation into Crandall’s murder has yet to yield any arrests. Edmiston said his department’s recent investigations have been challenged with the unfortunate luck of having relatively few leads to start with and the inherent difference between police, who need to show probable cause, and prosecutors, who need to show proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The last several major investigations we’ve had have been an uphill battle,” Edmiston said. “Sometimes investigations do get slowed up because we want to present the best product to the district attorney the first time rather than having to go back at a later time and get this warrant or that piece of information.”
In the apparent murder of Medows, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers responded to the intersection of Lamb Road and Interstate 82 around 8:30 p.m. on June 20 after a caller reported a man was stopped in a pickup and needed medical attention, a press release stated.
Upon arriving at the scene, police found Medows deceased in the pickup with gunshot wounds.
In the Pendleton murder case, a press release from Pendleton police stated that officers were dispatched to the Trailhead Park area on Westgate around 3:42 a.m. on June 23 for a report of a disturbance and found a man who had been “severely assaulted.”
Pendleton Fire and EMS responded to the scene and transported the victim to St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton where he was later pronounced deceased as a result of the injuries he suffered in the assault.
Pendleton police then took Butcher to the department to obtain a statement before booking him into the Umatilla County Jail in Pendleton, according to the release.
The release described Butcher as a homeless individual recently living in the Pendleton area.
Umatilla County District Attorney Dan Primus said on June 23 that authorities won’t be releasing any additional information about the case at this time and wouldn’t say how Butcher was connected to the crime, only that police had linked it to him at this time.
As Umatilla County police and prosecutors try to solve the most recent murder cases and convict those responsible, they also continue to fight the daily challenges of doing so during a pandemic. Edmiston said on June 24 that a police department employee recently returned to work after testing positive for COVID-19 and two other employees and one volunteer are currently isolating with the virus.
“We’ve been stretched extremely thin,” Edmiston said.