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Neighborhood Swath

A Medford landscaper is in the Jackson County Jail after he took a chainsaw to trees on his property Thursday morning and then moved on to his west Medford neighbors' trees.

Palm Street resident Valentine Gomez-Romero told police he took methamphetamine and stayed up all night reading the Bible before using a chainsaw to cut down trees in his own yard, in the 600 block of Palm Street, then a half-dozen in his neighbors' front yards.

Police arrived at about 8 a.m. Thursday to find branches and at least one 40-foot tree strewn across Palm Street in what they said is a usually quiet neighborhood. When they tried to stop Gomez-Romero, they said, he took a swing at an officer and was wrestled to the ground and arrested.

By early afternoon, the neighborhood sported a series of fresh tree stumps and an immigration hold had been placed of the father of three, who was in jail almost as quickly as city officials had ordered cleanup and estimated damages at $5,000.

Gomez-Romero's wife Christina Gomez was called home from work by a neighbor who told her that her husband had "gone outside and just started cutting trees down." Gomez smoked a cigarette at her front door as her hands shook on Thursday morning.

She said the couple, who met four years ago and married last year, moved to the rental house in October and "just go to work and never even have anyone over."

Gomez, who left for work an hour before the incident, said her husband had been "reading the Bible every day" and had become increasingly depressed over his immigration status which had resulted in an expired license and vehicle tags after new, more stringent state motor vehicle requirements were implemented this year.

"I don't even know what happened," Gomez said through tears. "It was some crazy man on meth cutting down trees. That wasn't my husband.

"He's never been into drugs. Never even gotten a ticket until he got one for being expired. He's the best man I know. He works seven days a day and takes care of me and my kids. This isn't about drugs. It's about his immigration."

Medford Police Lt. Bob Hansen said police had reported no problems at the home prior to Thursday's incident.

Gomez Romero was being held on charges of first-degree criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest. He was also placed on an immigration hold for allegedly being in the country illegally.

Gomez and her husband gave police permission to search the home, Hansen said, and no drugs were found.

Palm Street neighbor Jimmy Ulrey said he and his girlfriend, Breann Taylor, were alerted by the sounds of a chainsaw.

"I saw the guy come out with a chainsaw but I saw a Pacific Power truck so I didn't think anything of it until he came in (Ulrey's) yard and just started cutting the trees," Ulrey said.

"My girlfriend called 9-1-1 and the cop showed up and was just talking to him and he came at the cop. He went to kick him and the cop caught his foot and they started fighting. The cop was alone and I was starting across the street to make sure he was OK and I saw two more cars coming down the road."

Ulrey described the house across the street as "pretty busy" but said the couple had caused few problems for neighbors.

"If he was on drugs, we were lucky this was all that happened because my girlfriend was standing pretty close, yelling at him to knock it off. He looked up at her one time but kept on cutting," Ulrey said, adding that Gomez-Romero's background as a landscaper may have prevented the episode from ending up even worse.

"He obviously knew what he was doing because if he didn't know how to cut down trees they could have landed the wrong way and maybe hit the house or hurt someone."

Hansen said the unusual nature of the crime was not surprising given that meth use appeared to be involved.

"Unfortunately, when people use meth or cocaine, you never know what's going to happen," Hansen said.

"This time, only property was damaged and no person was hurt, but they could very well have been."

Gomez-Romero and one officer suffered minor injuries, while a second officer sustained more significant knee injuries. All three were treated and released at local hospitals.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

Jimmy Ulry stands by a stump in his yard across the street from the house where Valentine Gomez-Romero cut down trees on Palm Street in Medford Thursday. Gomez-Romero started out by cutting down trees at his house, then moved across the street and cut down trees in Ulry's yard. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Jim Craven