Monday, June 04, 2007

Rose Festival Death

My neighborhood in downtown Portland is packed to the gills with people, parking prices have tripled and quadrupled over night and the sidewalks are lined with folding chairs. Must be Rose Festival time again in Portland.

I’m not really a Grinch, I appreciate the parades and the fireworks and the crowds of people, as much as I can. I know this is the defining time of the year for the Rose City. The weather is great and the roses are in bloom. The U.S. Navy has ships docked along the Willamette River. All of the High Schools in town have elected a court of Rose princesses. It’s a hundred year old festival this year and it’s worth celebrating.

Washington Mutual’s Waterfront Village, the carnival that used to be known as the Fun Center, has tight security and a “family-friendly” focus this year. I wonder if anyone remembers how it got that way? Oddly, enough it started ten years ago this week. June 7, 1997, to be exact.

On that balmy Portland evening Kenneth Shanafelt, 39, of Vancouver, and his wife, Robin attended a performance of the musical Beauty and the Beast at the Civic Auditorium. The play let out at about 10pm. The night was young and the parents with three small children at home with a babysitter, decided to enjoy the Rose Festival that would still be open for another two hours.

Miraculously finding a parking space near the corner of SW Salmon and 2nd Ave, the couple walked through Waterfront Park to the Fun Center. The Oregonian described it as a romantic evening and I’m sure it was. Portland is pretty this time of year and the Willamette is always a beautiful river.

The Shanafelts walked along the river looking at the imposing Naval ships, munching Portland’s trademark fry-bread treat “Elephant Ears” and sipping lemonade. Shortly before 11:30pm, they headed back toward their car for the short drive into Washington that would take them home.

Five blocks away Daniel DeJesus, 19, and his friend George Garcia were leaving a nightclub and heading for Garcia’s car to drive home to Washington County. In front of the Hilton Hotel at SW Salmon and Broadway DeJesus and Garcia ran into a group of about eight young men who didn’t like the shirt that DeJesus was wearing, an NFL jersey with the number 13 on it.

The two groups of young men traded insults and possibly some gang signs. Soon they were throwing punches and a general melee broke out. DeJesus grabbed a .357 magnum pistol from Garcia’s pocket and began firing at their opponents. Garcia, told the Oregonian, that he heard four shots as he ran for his car and sped back to pick up his friend.

One bullet hit a bus shelter at SW Fifth and Salmon, spraying 20-year-old Mercedes Munden’s face with broken glass and injuring her severely.

Robin Shanafelt heard the gunshots as she and Kenneth approached their car. She said they sounded like firecrackers. Then Kenneth dropped to the ground. She didn’t know what happened at first, but then she saw the blood and his head wound. Two passing women helped her stop the bleeding and perform CPR, but it was too late. Kenneth Bryan Shanafelt, father of four and teacher of Truck Driving Safety was dead.

Shanafelt’s death didn’t really have anything to do with the Rose Festival or the Pepsi Fun Center, but it was such a shocking crime that it drew major attention to the festival. The next year security was tightened, but a stabbing incident in a parking lot near the Fun Center increased the pressure. [I’ll tell you about Anthony Nnoli and Andy Borlande another time.]

In 1999 they fenced in the fun center for the first time. Then came WTO, and May Day and then 9/11. And that children, is why we can’t even drive on Naito Parkway at this time of year.

Daniel DeJesus plead no contest to charges of manslaughter and was sentenced to 23 years. Prosecutors wanted to charge him with murder and were sure they could convict him, but Robin Shanfelt said that she did not see the young man as a murderer and wanted to spare her family the trauma of a trial. She urged them to accept the manslaughter plea.

Not all of Shanafelt’s family were so forgiving. Bill McGinty, Shanafelt’s step-father, told the Oregonian, “I’m 54 years old and I have never been so full of hate and anger as I am now.”

Amber Shanafelt, Kenneth’s oldest daughter who was 17 when he died, was badly traumatized by her father’s death. She suffered nightmares, panic attacks, fits of shaking and paralysis as a result of post-traumatic stress. Those are all normal symptoms and I’m sure over the last ten years they have abated, but I bet they haven’t gone away completely. I also bet that Amber’s startle reflex can be exaggerated, especially when she hears loud bangs.

None of this, of course has made Portland any safer. Random bullets still fly, lethally in May, 2005 when a 41-year old transient was killed by a gun fired at someone else a block away. That happened at SW 2nd and Yamhill , about a block from where Kenneth Shanafelt died.

I think Judge Kimberly Frankel said it best when she was sentencing DeJesus: “I can stop Mr. DeJesus by imprisoning him for a time. What I don’t understand is how to stop the next person and the next person. I’m disgusted.”