Author Archives: admin

The story of a fish, and a murder

Our saga of Howard Tong begins after he caught a fish at the Oregon Coast in 1939. It ends in murder in 1972. Along the way, it includes a tangled web of tragedy, lawsuits, mystery, and insanity.

Actually, let’s back up a few years and begin our story in 1931 at Oregon State University, where fraternity boy Howard Tong proposed to his college sweetheart, Gwendolyn Morgan. Within a year, they welcomed a daughter, Carolyn, joined a year later by another baby, Delores.

Howard and Gwen Tong, 1939.

Howard and Gwen Tong, 1939.

Howard’s teaching career blossomed despite the Great Depression, and by 1938 he was principal of the high school in Gaston, but life was not all rosy in the Tong house on Second Street, near the school. Public school teachers didn’t make much in small-town Oregon. With a salary of a little more than $1,000 a year, and with only about $500 in assets, the young family was burdened with $3,300 of debt, and filed for bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy would prove to be the least of the Tongs’ problems in 1938, however, as 5-year-old Delores died.

Howard got back on his feet quickly however, and in 1940 found a better-paying job elsewhere. Then, as World War II raged, Carolyn got a baby brother, John. Things once again looked bright for the Tongs, but then once again tragedy struck, as John died at just 8 months old. Continue reading

The night the lights went out: A Halloween Tale

The following is an excerpt from Walking to Forest Grove Copyright 2014 Ken Bilderback

In October 1941, the town buzzed in anticipation of the opening celebration for the Wilson River Highway, but the celebration had to be delayed because although rainfall in the Fall of 1941 was below normal, the dirt portion of the highway had turned to foot-deep mud. Rescheduling the opening, however, soon took a backseat to more urgent matters in preparation for possible war. On Halloween night, the Army was planning a mock air raid on Washington County to test preparedness, just in case the Japanese tried a sneak air raid over the area. More than 100 fighters, bombers, and military surveillance planes would fly over the county, prepared to drop flare “bombs” over any city in which even a single light stayed on. Batteries of anti-aircraft artillery would blast blanks into the night sky to add to the realism. Continue reading

Justice delayed is justice denied

Michael Medill will not face charges for posting warning signs at Henry Hagg Lake. Or maybe he will. It sort of all depends on the mood of bureaucrats on any given day.

On Saturday, September 6, Gaston resident Michael Medill was arrested for placing signs at Henry Hagg Lake warning about a dangerous drop-off at the Sain Creek swimming area. Continue reading

Leadership and cowardice. Only one label is appropriate in Hagg Lake fiasco.

An open letter to Bob Davis and Pat Garrett.

Dear Mr. Davis and Sheriff Garrett,

I have been a vocal critic of Washington County’s role in the drownings of four people at Scoggins Valley Park. I can’t say that either of you have done anything wrong, however, because neither of you have done anything at all. At least not publicly. You’ve left public servants to take the brunt of taxpayers’ outrage while you have remained silent. Continue reading

Hagg Lake fiasco is merely a symptom of Washington County’s arrogance and incompetence

Dropping the charges against a man arrested for bolting cardboard warning signs at Henry Hagg Lake was a good start. Putting up permanent, albeit inadequate and misleading, warning signs is another good step. But public outrage over the tragedies at Scoggins Valley Park, and the County’s incompetent response and subsequent cover-up, should be just beginning.

The first issue should be to reveal and overturn decades of public policy intentionally meant to hide deadly danger from park visitors because of a horribly misguided fear of a possible lawsuit. Since at least 1990, County officials have refused to acknowledge the steep, vertical, hidden trench cut by Sain Creek at the park’s most popular designated swimming and wading area. Continue reading

In praise of government honesty

After two weeks of Washington County spokespeople offering statements that have been convoluted, contradictory and in some case just mean-spirited, head communications honcho Phil Bransford shows how it’s done. He’s forthright, and even acknowledges that Michael Medill’s civil disobedience spurred the county into faster action because of the negative publicity commissioners were getting. I hope that his good work doesn’t cost him his job, because his bosses have been denying that.

A tale of three counties, and of Right vs. Wrong

hagglakeresponse“There is a right way and a wrong way to do this, to educate and outreach.” Those are the words of a Washington County official while having deputies cite a citizen for posting warning signs 12 days after three generations of a family drowned at Henry Hagg Lake. The police action came two years after eight people were saved at the same spot by the actions of a heroic family. The action came eight years after the county created an official policy of not warning swimmers of danger, 24 years after a county official went on record stating the same sentiment, and nearly 40 years after the first of nearly two dozen drownings at the reservoir. Continue reading

Decades of inaction and victim-blaming at Hagg Lake as the death toll grows

Read an updated post here. Another update: The man who placed the warning signs is facing a $5,000 fine.

By 1990, the dangers hidden beneath tranquil Hagg Lake at the Sain Creek picnic area were well known to park officials, so when two young men drowned 16 days apart that hot July, reporters asked why there were no signs warning of the submerged perils. A headline in the July 24 edition of The Oregonian summed up their response: “No changes due at Hagg Lake after second drowning.” Continue reading