Death, drugs and drunks: A Halloween weekend ride along with UOPD
UOPD Officer Adam Lillengreen had just booked an offender at the Lane County Jail when a call crackled in over the barely audible dispatch radio, alerting Lillengreen to a possible cardiac arrest a few blocks away.
Lillengreen flipped on his lights and sirens and raced to the location — an alley between Olive and Willamette streets near the Hult Center. As he pulled up, his headlights splashed across the body of a woman lying motionless on the pavement. Dark red streams of what looked like blood had collected near her head and waist.
Lillengreen sprinted towards the woman. As more Eugene PD patrol cars pulled up, Lillengreen leaned over the woman and pressed two fingers into her neck to check for a pulse. He couldn’t find one.
Eugene resident Chris McCarthy stood off to the side. McCarthy had been walking home from work when he spotted the woman.
“I thought that it might have been like a Halloween prank at first, and it definitely was not and I started to realize all the blood around her and immediately called 9-1-1,” McCarthy said.
It seemed clear that the woman was dead — so Lillengreen walked away from her body to interview McCarthy.
Eugene police are still investigating the cause of death, and are asking anyone with potential information to contact them.
This was the last scene I witnessed during my four-hour “ride along” with the UOPD on Friday, October 27.
A Halloweekend ride-along
Ride along programs are a part of community outreach — a way for police departments to show the community what policing is really like. As my first ride along, I had no idea what to expect — my only prior experience with policing was a few speeding tickets and media representations on news and TV shows.
Eugene has a history of riots and high numbers of alcohol-related citations on Halloween itself, as well as the weekend before it — an unofficial party holiday known by UO students as “Halloweekend.” This history dates back to a riot in 1996, when 200 people threw bottles and rocks at police officers who were trying to break up a party. As recently as 2006, police shut down a party held at the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity; it resulted in 189 people receiving citations from Eugene Police and the event being shut down.
This year Halloween is on Tuesday, so I took a ride along with UOPD Officer Adam Lillengreen the Friday before Halloween. I wanted to see how police would handle one of the biggest party nights at the UO, but during the ride along, I didn’t see many parties. What I saw was police work that was more important than just breaking up parties.
Lillengreen has been at UO since 2008 and has dealt with only one significant Halloween riot in his time here.
“[This year] I have not heard any intel on any special or big events outside of just the normal Halloween parties,” said Lillengreen.
Unlike most professions, police officers have to deal with death on a fairly regular basis. Lillengreen said he has seen people die mostly from drug overdoses and suicides.
“As a police officer, I don’t have time to really experience the emotion of an incident like that. I have to act, and I have to make sure that people are safe, and I have to preserve life,” said Lillengreen as we drove away from the scene. “Come 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. when I am not doing anything — then I’ll start getting emotional.”
After the woman was confirmed dead and Lillengreen talked to a witness, we left. Eugene Police handle cases like this while UOPD focuses on crimes that affects UO or occur around the campus.
On the fringes of campus: An up-close look at the local drug problem
Earlier in the night while on patrol, Lillengreen spotted a man on a bike carrying an extra bike tire that he thought may have been stolen. He stopped the car; we were hidden from the man’s view at a stop light off of Franklin Boulevard, waiting for him to make a traffic violation.
“That BMX bike guy — he had a bike tire with him so I don’t know if he stole it,” said Lillengreen. “We are going to try and catch him — you have got to be sneaky about it. See that pedestrian signal there? We are going to see if he will cross the street against that pedestrian signal.” The man did and Lillengreen said that was a $150 violation.
When we first passed the man on his bike, I didn’t see him —but Lillengreen did. Cops are always looking for suspicious activity while on patrol and need to be much more aware of their surroundings than the average person.
“When I am on patrol, I am a visual deterrent… just looking to keep the university and college kids safe; that is the main thing,” said Lillengreen.
While questioning the man, who later identified himself as Ryan Arvin, 28, Lillengreen was able to determine that Arvin was on heroin. After Arvin consented, Lillengreen searched him — if he had not consented to a search, Lillengreen had probable cause, since Arvin had a meth pipe on him in plain sight.
During the search Lillengreen found methamphetamine, heroin, a pipe that had residue from smoking meth, tin foil with more heroin on it and a straw used for smoking heroin all on Arvin’s person.
Lillengreen tested both the meth and heroin with field drug test kits that require a small sample of the drug and show a certain color depending on the drug; turning blue for meth and green for heroin. Both test results were positive but were sent to a lab for further testing to confirm the results.
Lillengreen is a UOPD drug recognition expert, which means he has advanced training in recognizing when someone is under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Lillengreen said it is rare for U.S. police officers to be drug recognition experts.
“It really ties in and deals with impaired driving quite a bit, and prescription medication is a big reason why people are driving impaired,” said Lillengreen.
He also said that on an average weekend, impaired driving is the most serious offense that he deals with.
After finding the drugs and paraphernalia, Lillengreen arrested Arvin for two felonies: unlawful possession of heroin and unlawful possession of meth. On our way to the jail, Lillengreen and I asked Arvin questions about his history with drugs and crime.
We drove to the Lane County jail with the 6-foot-2-inch man in the back seat. Dark and messy hair draped from his head. He wore baggy clothes, had a tattoo on his neck and looked like he had not slept well in days.
In the back seat with his hands cuffed, Arvin told us he had been using heroin since he was 14 years old. He said he doesn’t even enjoy the drug or the feeling it gives anymore, and he wishes he could stop.
The calm before the crime
Around 9 p.m., Lillengreen, two other police cars and two officers on motorcycles escorted the UO football team to a hotel in Springfield where they stayed the night before the game. A common practice of college football teams, the hotel stay allows for team bonding before the game.
“They also get escorted in the morning and EPD helps with that and there is a lot more [police cars],” said Lillengreen.
After arriving at the hotel, a middle-aged woman with a UO blanket draped around her shoulders approached me while we were waiting to head back to Eugene and told me to thank the police for the job they do.
There were multiple other instances throughout the night where members of the UO community greeted officer Lillengreen with kindness and respect.
One response was to a report of alcohol poisoning in one of the UO dorms. When we got to the bathroom door, the student was vomiting in a stall, and members of the Eugene Fire Department were in the bathroom talking to the student’s friends to determine if he needed to go the hospital. After a few minutes, his friends carried him home to a different building. Lillengreen gave no citations.
Oregon law deems that a call to 911, when an underage person is in danger from drinking, will not end with a minor in possession charge.
Sometimes, Lillengreen likes to have a little fun.
He spotted a group of students in costumes waiting at a bus stop and rolled up next to them. Rolling down his window, he asked the group if they wanted to take pictures, and the students began screaming with excitement. They took pictures of themselves in their costumes, with Lillengreen and his patrol car.
Lillengreen also stopped two different cars that were driving erratically but didn’t give either of them a citation. One instance occurred when a car came around a corner at a high rate of speed, while the other occurred when a car was driving recklessly while trying to find parking around 12th and Ferry.
“I like to be educational. Not always though, because sometimes if someone is driving 100 miles an hour down Ferry Street Bridge that seems like it is pretty severe of an offense and that probably warrants a citation, but say that guy forgets to turn his turn signal on — there is nothing saying that I have to give him a citation,” said Lillengreen.
I was with Lillengreen for only four hours, and I saw alcohol poisoning, the effects of drug addiction, and the aftermath of a death. He is dealing with the worst moments in people’s lives on a daily basis.
The night ended after we left the scene of the woman’s death. Lillengreen dropped me off at the police department. Before I drove home, I thanked him and wished him luck.
The first hour started slow — but things became more intense as the night went on. For a brief moment at the end of the night, after seeing the dead woman, I felt that I had a glimpse into how difficult it can be to work as a police officer.