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Grand Jury Declines To Press Charges In Alleged Hit-And-Run Case

Brian Bull

The Lane County District Attorney's office Wednesday announced that no charges will be filed against a driver accused of a deliberate hit-and-run against a Black activist in Eugene.

A grand jury subpoenaed 13 witnesses, including Isiah Wagoner, formerly of Black Unity.  Five police officers were also interviewed. 

According to Wagoner and several others with Black Unity, Travis Waleri drove his car through a children’s parade on June 28th and struck Wagoner. 

In a release, the DA's office says evidence clearly suggests the mirror of Waleri's white Subaru contacted Wagoner, though just how is disputed.

Senior Prosecutor Chris Parosa said accounts of the incident varied, between Wagoner and Waleri, and those brought in to testify.  Parosa says Waleri was trying to avoid the crowd, by taking an illegal left turn on a roundabout.

“Took that left hand turn, and his claim was that Mr. Wagoner ultimately ran into his car and smacked his passenger side mirror.”

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Lane County Courthouse.

The collision between Wagoner and Waleri's car caused the activist to spin and stumble, but accounts differ whether he fell or regained his balance.  Wagoner and a group of demonstrators began to yell and chase after Waleri's car as it sped away northbound towards his apartment complex.  While some called 911 and walked children away from the intersection of W. 1st Avenue and Clark Street, others searched the complex for Waleri or documented his car.  

Waleri himself called police to report on the confrontation, and that a group of demonstrators were trying to locate him. Documents left in his car identified his apartment, and were pounding on his doors as police were still trying to learn exactly what had happened. Wagoner was lying in the grass near a complex parking lot, suffering from pain in his lower back and arm.  Medics came and transported him to Sacred Heart Riverbend Hosptial for examination.

A short but tense stand-off between police and the crowd ended, when demonstrators allowed police through to contact Waleri in his apartment.  According to Sgt. Matt Lowen of the EPD, Waleri explained he was coming back from a family event when he encountered the Black Unity Children's March.  He redirected his car to Jefferson Street then Clark Street to avoid the demonstrators, which is corroborated by surveillance footage from a business off of W. 1st Ave and N. Adams.

Waleri claimed that from his perspective, there was sufficient room for him to make a left turn onto N. Adams by illegally entering the westbound lane of travel and cutting through the left corner of the roundabout. He told police that he saw Wagoner entering the natural pedestrian walkway on the intersection's southwest corner.  Waleri continued, and said as he began making his illegal turn, Wagoner quickly approached his vehicle and struck the passenger-side mirror.  Fearing a confrontation with demonstrators, Waleri says he chose to keep driving up N. Adams towards his apartment complex as he observed several demonstrators chase after him in his rearview mirror.

Given the volatility of the situation outside the apartment, Sgt. Lowen decided to escort Waleri to EPD headquarters.  Waleri was handcuffed and taken to a waiting police vehicle.

Without establishing probable cause for Waleri's arrest pending further investigation, Waleri was released.

The DA's summary goes on to say that Isiah Wagoner was discharged from the hospital with non-threatening life injuries, primarily significant lower back pain.

The EPD assigned the Major Collision Investigations Unit (MCI) to review the incident.  All-known witnesses were interviewed, and a 3D scan of the scene was constructed.  Available surveillance videos and photos of the incident were examined, as was drone photography of the intersection. Wagoner's medical records and time/distance calculations were also reviewed.

Grand jury proceedings began on July 24th.  Weeks later, the grand jury was instructed on the law and asked to consider the following charges: Attempted Murder in the Second Degree; Assault in the Second Degree; Assault in the Third Degree, Assault in the Fourth Degree; Failure to Perform the Duties of a Driver; Reckless Driving; and Recklessly Endangering Another Person. 

After deliberation, the grand jury returned a "no true bill" on all of the charges, meaning there was not enough evidence. 

Parosa said unless new evidence is provided, they cannot re-open the case.  And grand jury decisions cannot be appealed. But the Lane County DA said Wagoner can pursue the matter in civil court.

Meanwhile, Wagoner told KLCC that he's “demoralized” by the grand jury decision.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Isiah Wagoner at KLCC, after hearing of the grand jury's decision.

He says he was trying to keep children safe during the parade, when Waleri pushed through with his car.  Wagoner added that he’s sustained physical and mental trauma from the collision…and is also left wanting for justice.

“So what do I say to my daughter?" asked Wagoner. "Daddy might have to die for your rights when you’re older, to live in a just, equal, society…that will not marginalize you, based off of the color of your skin.”

Wagoner wouldn't say if he’s considering a civil suit. 

WEB EXTRA: More of Isiah Wagoner's response to the grand jury decision.


Wagoner: Bottom line is, Black men in this country - Black people in this country I should say best - we don’t get justice. We get charged, we get locked away, we get forgotten about. But when you have the complexion for the protection you’ll always be protected. That’s just what “United States” stands for.

Black lives don’t matter then, Black lives don’t’ matter now.  It’s just a statement people say to be cute. The bottom line is, I can’t take my skin off like a uniform people wear.  I gotta wear this color the rest of my life, with pride and with dignity, and I gotta hope that one day I’ll be seen as the rest of this group of a nation came together to become of Americans. We can only hope to be seen in that category. Black people will never get justice until we continue to fight day in and day out, protesting day in and day out, for our rights and for our civil liberties here on this continent.

Bull: What is your stance moving forward?

Wagoner: I have no time for hatred. I will not allow a day to go by, that someone won’t remember the fact that these names are still being said. The fact that Black people are still struggling in the streets like dogs, I will fight for the voice of the voiceless, I will not allow this injustice to be a place of justice for some, it will be justice for all.

Bull:  After your conversation with the DA, how did you break the news to your family?

Wagoner: You let them know we live in a society that says it’s for the people and by the people when the people speak up. Nothing’s done. So what do I say to my daughter? Daddy might have to die for your rights when you’re older to live in a just, equal, society…that will not marginalize you, based off of the color of your skin. And hopefully within this fight, we become as equal as the next man or woman next to you.

Bull: Isiah, thank you for coming in and sharing your thoughts. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Wagoner: It’s always a pleasure and honor, Brian, to speak with you…but the world disgraced us today.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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